Two first-half penalties from striker Eddie Johnson were enough for the U.S. to blank Korea Republic 2-0 in the last group match for both sides. The win sees the North Americans seal top spot in Group F (ahead of Paraguay on goal difference) and a place in the Round of Sixteen. The result also suits Korea just fine, as it is just enough to see them pip Germany on goal difference for third spot and a place in the second round - consigning the Europeans to a long flight home.
After an early and ultimately harmless snapshot from the States’ Eddie Johnson, Cho Won Hee nearly opened the account for Korea with a powerful shot from 25 yards. U.S. keeper Steve Cronin looked all but beaten, but the strike sailed just wide of his post (8’).
It proved to be a false down though for the boys from the Land of the Morning Calm, as the Americans took the lead shortly after. When referee Matthew Breeze of Australia spotted a bit of seemingly innocuous jostling in the box from Han Jae Woong on a U.S. free kick, he did not hesitate in pointing to the spot. Striker Johnson stepped up coolly and buried the ball low and to his left past Kim Young Kwang (1-0, 12’).
And when American captain Bobby Convey raced into the box eleven minutes later, there was no question about the second penalty as Korea captain Kim Jin Kyu took the midfielder’s legs from beneath him. Johnson again stepped up to do the honours. Bravely going the same way, he only just sneaked it past the outstretched arm of Kim (2-0, 23’).
“I kind of hesitated and waited for him to move,” Johnson said after the match. “But I always go the same way. If I had another one in the game, I still would have gone the same way.”
The Koreans, looking speedy and well organised despite the setback, steamed forward. Lee Ho’s rasping shot from 30 yards forced Cronin to scramble and grab it at the second attempt (26’).
But when Adu – who switched positions from the left of midfield to the right mid-way through the half in his first match of the finals as a starter - found some space and roared at the Korean defence, it looked like his slipped through ball to Eddie Johnson was to be the U.S.’ third. But Kim was well off his line to get just enough of Johnson’s chipped shot (34’).
he U.S. continued to dominate possession at the start of the second half. And when Convey’s precision through ball sent Johnson in on goal it was sure to be number three. But after rounding Kim, the striker simply ran out of space (53’).
Sadly, knowing full well that a 0-2 loss would see them through, the Koreans were content to slow the game down and absorb U.S. pressure. Save for a few American forays into opposition territory, the remainder of the second half was played virtually at walking pace with both sides happy with the state of affairs.
The United States will now head to Dubai where they will meet up-and-coming African power Côte d’Ivoire in the Round of Sixteen, while Korea will remain in Abu Dhabi for a replay of last-year’s Asian U-20 Championship against neighbours and rivals Japan.
After the match both bosses were pleased with the final result.
“We knew the importance of this match coming in,” said U.S. boss Thomas Rongen. “We played to win tonight, following our instincts. We were more aggressive and we went out to take it to them, unlike our more measured and cautious approach against Germany. We showed what we could do today.”
Convey agreed with his coach’s sentiments. “We knew coming in it was a really tough group and to win it is huge,” he said. “We showed we could play, and we reached our first goal tonight.”
Korea Coach Park Sung Wha can also be happy with the overall result. “We came out playing well,” he said. “But after the first goal we flattened out a bit. We came into this match today with the goal of getting to the next round. And we did what we had to do to get there.”