Hwang gives Korea the edge over Hong Kong as EAFF E-1 kicks off

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Hwang gives Korea the edge over Hong Kong as EAFF E-1 kicks off


The Korean national football team celebrates after a 2-0 victory against Hong Kong at the East Asian Football Federation E-1 Football Championship at Busan Asiad Main Stadium in Busan on Wednesday. [NEWS1]

Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Hwang In-beom scored a free kick as Korea squeezed past Hong Kong 2-0 to open an East Asian men’s football tournament at home on Wednesday.

FC Tokyo midfielder Na Sang-ho headed home an insurance goal in the second half, helping Korea take its first match of the East Asian Football Federation (EAFF) E-1 Football Championship at Busan Asiad Main Stadium in Busan, 450 kilometers (280 miles) southeast of Seoul.

Korea, world No. 41, is trying to win its third straight EAFF title, but the narrow win over the 139th-ranked team won’t inspire confidence in the famously fickle and demanding fans.

Coached by Paulo Bento, Korea will face China on Sunday. For the finale, the host country will be up against Japan next Wednesday. Both matches will start at Busan Asiad Main Stadium at 7:30 p.m.

Hong Kong made its intentions clear from the kickoff: Vastly overmatched in talent, it wasn’t going to try to counter Korea punch for punch. It was instead happy to crowd its zone with as many as nine players at once, with Yapp Hung-fai in net and striker James Ha hanging around the midfield, where he was ready to leak out for fast break opportunities when the loose ball came his way.

Son Jun-ho and Hwang In-beom tested the Hong Kong defense with a couple of early shots. Ha did have one counterattack chance, as he snuck in behind the defense and rolled a shot just wide of the left post in the 27th minute.

Korea had trouble establishing much of an offensive presence in the sea of red Hong Kong uniforms.

A deft free kick by Hwang finally put Korea on the board in the 45th minute. Hwang banked his curling shot in off the left post, freezing Yapp in his spot.

It was Korea’s first goal in four matches. It had consecutive scoreless draws against North Korea and Lebanon in World Cup qualifying matches and then suffered a 3-0 loss to Brazil in a friendly match last month.

Hong Kong continued to frustrate the Korean attackers, who kept knocking on the door until it opened again in the 81st minute with Na’s goal.

Midfielder Kim Bo-kyung received a corner kick from Hwang and set up Na for the header past Yapp that doubled the Korean lead.

Although Korea won, it still has a negative takeaway from the match. In the 41st minute of the match, Taeguk Warriors’ starting striker Kim Seung-dae suffered a broken rib in the 41st minute and was taken out of the match.

Following a collision with Hong Kong goalkeeper Yapp on a fast break opportunity, Kim went down immediately in apparent pain, and the Korea Football Association (KFA) announced that the rib injury, along with a bruised lung, will sideline him for six weeks. However, the KFA said no replacement will be named in Kim’s stead.

This is the third time Korea has hosted the EAFF tournament, and the Taeguk Warriors have never lifted the trophy on home soil. They finished in fourth place in 2005 and in third place in 2013.

Bento is without the services of Europe-based players, such as Tottenham Hotspur attacking ace Son Heung-min and budding FC Red Bull Salzburg star Hwang Hee-chan. The EAFF tournament isn’t on the FIFA international match calendar, and clubs aren’t obliged to release their Korean players for this event.

On the 23-man team, Hwang is the only player based outside Asia.

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