Korea sink Sierra Leone in seesaw battle
After seeing their early lead disintegrate yet again, Korea Republic surged back with pride in an inspired second half to win their only match of the finals 2-3 in a sun-drenched Lahti stadium. Crushing courageous Sierra Leone’s hopes of a spot in the quarter-finals, Group D’s Taeguk Warriors became the only Asian side at Finland 2003 to win a match.
Knowing they would need goals to keep hopes of a spot in the quarter-finals alive, Sierra Leone swarmed into attack against the already eliminated Koreans. But it was the Asians who came closest to breaking the deadlock with a quarter-hour gone. Yang dong Hyen’s low ball across the face of goal fractionally missed the toe of Han Dong Won, sliding in at the back post.
Just minutes later, when foraging captain Samuel Barlay was put through one-on-one with Korean keeper Cha Ki Seok, it looked odds-on a goal for the Africans. But the alert Asian somehow managed to dive swiftly to his left and push away the low drive.
“He (Barlay) is one of the best players we have,” said coach Musa Kallon after the match. “He has a desire to improve and I will use all of my power to drive him further in football.”
With nearly a half-hour gone it was Han again causing big problems for the Sierra Leone backline. Collecting a fine through ball from Lee Yong Rae and bursting into the penalty area, he cut back brilliantly onto his right foot and fired a curling shot past new keeper Unisa Bangura and into the top corner (0-1, 28’).
The Asians, playing only for pride, were unable to take their slim lead into the locker room. Kalie Jalloh burst into the box, and after a fine display of ball control fired a shot at Cha from close range. Partially deflected, the ball fell right to the foot of Obi Metzger who made no mistake – slamming home into the yawning net (1-1, 36’).
Sierra Leone had a golden opportunity to go up in the dying moments of the half when Barlay again burst in behind the defence. But despite some good work and a ferocious strike, he was again stopped by some heroic Korean goalkeeping to keep the match balanced at the half.
ierra Leone kept up the pressure after taking the field for the second half. Controlling a simple square pass from Alimamy Sesay, Metzger fired home extravagantly from 25 yards with his right foot to beat the brave Cha and grab his second goal of the match. The goal also saw the Koreans surrender their third lead in three matches at the finals (2-1, 51’).
The Koreans continued to play with resolute spirit and were getting their chances as the half wore on. Midway through, Han went close again. Rising well above a forest of green, his ferocious header could only splatter off the crossbar.
Han was again involved as Korea grabbed the equaliser. Racing down the right to the byline, he crossed low and hard. Yang Dong Hyen slammed the ball home on the full volley sparking wild celebrations (2-2, 74’).
One more from the Koreans sealed Sierra Leone’s campaign. After Yang raced into the box and fired off a snapshot, Bangura could only get a hand to the ball. The alert Lee Yong Rae was there at the far post to grab the win for Korea (2-3, 78’).
After conceding yet another late goal, Sierra Leone boss Kallon points to indiscipline as a serious problem.
“These boys lack the discipline needed at this level,” he said. “Our preparations are very difficult. We lack good pitches, balls and all of the things you need to be ready to face some of the world’s best players. But we will continue to try, and strive to improve.”
Though both sides are heading for home after only three matches, they will undoubtedly consider Finland 2003 a valuable learning experience.
“This was a really good experience for our boys here in Finland,” Korea boss Yoon Deok Yeo said after the match. “To play against such great players can only help, and we will hope to take the lessons we learned and do much better next time.”
“And as the only Asian side to win a match, I believe we can consider ourselves the pride of Asia,” said Yoon with a justifiable sense of pride.