The South Korean national football team has been one of the most successful teams from Asia during the World Cup. After several years of qualifying for the tournament without winning a game, South Korea provided the shock of their own hosted competition in 2002. Victories over Italy and Spain saw them reach the semi finals where they were finally eliminated. The feat put Korean football on the map and expectations now have ridden to qualifying for the knock out stages.
However, South Korea first had to navigate the Asian qualifying section. As a premier nation in Asia, South Korea received a bye for the first two rounds before making their bow in the four group third qualifying round. The Koreans group looked fairly straightforward although they would have a double header against arch rivals North Korea.
A Seol Ki-Hyeon double helped South Korea to an impressive start to their campaign with a 4-0 win over Turkmenistan. Next up was a tricky encounter away to North Korea where a passionate affair ended in a 0-0 stalemate. South Korea looked to get on track in their next home match against Jordan. However, a 2-0 lead evaporated into a 2-2 draw which put the team under a little bit of pressure.
Thankfully, a Park Chu Young winner in the reverse fixture against Jordan secured a valuable three points that put South Korea on the brink of qualifying for the next stage. A 3-1 away victory against Turkmenistan guaranteed South Korea a top two spot. The final match against North Korea was simply to decide who finished top. Another 0-0 stalemate ensured South Korea maintained minor bragging rights over their rivals as they finished above them on goal difference.
The Koreans were then drawn into a five team final group where the top two automatically qualified for the World Cup. On paper, South Korea were the favourites although the group was certainly not simple as they were once again pitted with rivals North Korea as well as Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The first match of the group for South Korea saw them travel to North Korea. Once again, the rivals couldn’t be seperated as the two teams this time drew 1-1. They got off and running with a crushing 4-1 victory over group minnows UAE before two goals in the last 15 minutes gave them a crucial away win against Saudi Arabia.
Another late away goal, this time from Manchester United midfielder Park Ji Sung, earned a crucial 1-1 draw against Iran. Qualification was pretty much secured as they finally got the better of rivals North Korea with an 86th winner in a 1-0 victory. Another comfortable 2-0 with against the UAE was followed by a final match 1-1 draw at home to Iran to leave them top of the group with 16 points. All in all, it meant that South Korea comfortably qualified for South Africa 2010 without losing a match in the entire qualification process.
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