9-minute blitz advances KoreaThe Greek gods smiled again on South Korea on Tuesday. After being down three goals in the 55th minute against Mali, the South Korean Olympic soccer team needed only nine minutes to catch up, ending the game in a 3-3 draw and pushing the South Koreans into the quarterfinals, a first for the nation.
Sixteen nations are divided into four groups in round-robin play, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the quarterfinal round. Tuesday’s draw put Korea, which has one win and two draws, in second place in Group A, behind Mali, which has scored more total goals. South Korea will next face the top-seeded winner from Group B.
Even though it started out cautiously, the game against Mali played out like a ride aboard a roller coaster. Well aware that a draw would advance both of them into the next round, South Korea and Mali began playing very conservatively, passing the ball mainly on their own halves of the pitch.
Trying to draw in the opponent’s strikers to create space for an opportunity, each team only occasionally probed at its opponent’s goal. The balance was tipped in the seventh minute as Mali’s Tenema Ndiaye scored on a through pass from Dramane Traore for the first goal of the game.
Still, even when behind, the Koreans didn’t engage in hasty attacks but kept to the strategy that they had started out with.
But passing mistakes by Korean midfielders gave Malian players several opportunities to pose a threat. As the Malians wreaked havoc inside Korean territory with superb individual skills, Korean defenders had trouble containing them.
Working off a free kick by Moussa Coulibaly that hit the upper bar, Mali drew blood again as an unmarked Tenema Ndiaye scooped up the deflected ball and fired in his second goal past Kim Young-gwang at 24 minutes into the first half. It was this second goal that kickstarted the Koreans’ engine, putting them on an all-out offensive.
Nevertheless, it seemed that all hope was lost when Ndiaye managed to score his third goal in the 55th minute of the game.
After speeding up their game using crosses on fast counterattacks, the Koreans finally scored shortly after Mali’s third goal, as Cho Jae-jin headed in Korea’s first goal in the 57th minute of the game.
The Koreans pressed on with their attack as Cho scored again on a header just two minutes later on a cross by Kim Dong-jin.
On another cross by Choi Seong-kuk, Mali’s Tamboura Adama tied it for Korea by heading the ball into his goal while trying to clear its away.
From that point forward, both sides painstakingly avoided engaging in attacks that might offer the other side another opportunity to score. On a rare occasion when Mali got within shooting distance, it was Korean goalie Kim Young-gwang saving the day.
For South Korea, this was the first time in seven tries that it succeeded in advancing to the quarterfinals at the Olympics. Despite its 2-1 record at the 2000 Sydney Games, its best performance at the Olympics up to that point, South Korea failed to advance as its 0-3 loss against Spain placed it third in its group in terms of goals scored.
by Brian Lee