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S. Korea held to scoreless draw by Syria in World Cup qualifier

All Headlines 23:28 September 06, 2016

SEREMBAN, Malaysia, Sept. 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea were held to a scoreless draw by Syria in the final World Cup qualifying campaign on Tuesday.

South Korea controlled the ball possession but they couldn't tear down the opponents' stubborn defense in the final Asian qualifying round for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The match was played at Tuanku Abdul Rahman Stadium, also known as Paroi Stadium, in Seremban, Malaysia, since Syria cannot host World Cup qualifiers at home due to the ongoing civil war.

In the final round, both South Korea and Syria are in Group A, along with Iran, Uzbekistan, Qatar and China. South Korea collected a 3-2 win against China to start their road to the World Cup in Russia.

South Korea were trying to pick up their second straight win and climbed to the top spot in the group over Iran.

Earlier in the day, Iran, which beat Qatar 2-0 for their opener, were held to a scoreless draw in China. Iran and South Korea are still tied at four points and Iran are ahead in goal difference, with Uzbekistan and Qatar in action later Tuesday.

For the final Asian qualification, where 12 teams compete, the winner and runner-up of each group will earn their berths at the World Cup after playing home-and-away under a round-robin format. The two third-place teams will have to go through play-off rounds to book their tickets to Russia.

South Korea, looking for a ninth consecutive World Cup appearance, will next meet Qatar at home on Oct. 6, before facing Iran on the road five days later.

Against Syria, South Korea started FC Augsburg forward Ji Dong-won up front, supported by his German club teammate Koo Ja-cheol. Crystal Palace midfielder Lee Chung-yong and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors' utility man Lee Jae-sung were on the wings, while team captain Ki Sung-yueng and Han Kook-young covered the central midfield.

South Korea made a few changes on defense from their first match. Along with goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu, center back Kim Young-gwon and right back Lee Yong got their first start in the final round, Jang Hyun-soo, who played on the right side against China, moved to center. Oh Jae-suk was back on the left side.

Without their star forward Omar Khribin, who was dropped from the squad due to a knee injury, Syria used Rafat Mohtadi as their target man.

Koo almost put South Korea in front in the seventh minute, but his close-range effort was saved by Syrian goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma. Ten minutes later, Han's left-footed effort in the box was blocked by defender Alaa Al Shbli.

While South Korea dominated possession and moved the ball around at pace, Syria surprised them in the 19th when Mahmoud Al Mawas stung the palms of Kim Seung-gyu with a powerful mid-range strike.

South Korea kept knocking on the door with Kim Young-gwon's header in the 28th and Ki's right-footed blast in the 36th, but none of them found the back of the net.

Syria, relying on counterattacks, earned a free kick in the first-half stoppage time after Oh received a yellow card. But Moayed Al Ajan's attempt from outside the box went straight into Kim Seung-gyu's hands.

The second half was pretty much same as the South Koreans constantly tried to cut open the Syrian defense. But Lee Chung-yong's strike from Lee Yong's cross in the 55th was denied by Alma and Kim Young-gwon's strike three minutes later went wide.

Looking for goals, speedy attacker Hwang Hee-chan came on for Lee Jae-sung in the 67th and midfielder Kwon Chang-hoon replaced Koo eight minutes later. Syria stuck to their counterattack tactics and Mohtadi delivered a header on the target in the 79th, only to be denied by Kim.

Syria also went into time-wasting mode as the match was winding down. South Korea kept sending crosses from the flank, but none of them led to productive opportunities in the box.

South Korea were given six minutes of added time, but they couldn't build any momentum as Syrian players lay down on the ground and killed the clock.

South Korean midfielder Lee Chung-yong (L) vies for the ball against Syrian forward Mahmoud Al Mawas during their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier at Tuanku Abdul Rahman Stadium in Seremban, Malaysia, on Sept. 6, 2016. The matched ended in a 0-0 draw. (Yonhap)

kdon@yna.co.kr
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