Al Ain: Kim Min-jae scored the only goal of the game as Korea Republic saw off a gallant Kyrgyz Republic to win 1-0 at Al Ain’s Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Friday evening and secure their place in the Round of 16 of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019.
Kim Min-jae headed home four minutes before the half-time break to give Paulo Bento’s side a second straight single-goal win at the tournament and ensure they join China PR in qualifying for the Round of 16 from Group C.
The two nations face off to determine who will finish in pole position in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday while Kyrgyz Republic meet the Philippines with both sides looking for their first points of the tournament to keep their slim hopes of progressing alive.
Kyrgyz Republic coach Alexander Krestinin took the decision to drop goalkeeper Pavel Matiash after his costly error in the 2-1 loss to China and brought 21-year-old Kutman Kadyrbekov into the team for his debut competitive fixture.
The Dordoi Bishkek goalkeeper was called into action after just 12 minutes when he dropped to his left to keep out Koo Ja-cheol’s low strike form 25 yards and Tamirlan Kozubaev blocked Hwang Ui-jo’s attempt to slot home the rebound.
The Koreans were on the front foot throughout the opening quarter of the game, with Hwang In-beom and Hwang Ui-jo both trying their luck from range but neither was able to find the target.
Lee Yong was soon making his presence felt down the right and Kadyrbekov was forced to push his attempt away for a corner.
Kyrgyz Republic, though, did manage to threaten at the other end, with Bekzhan Sabynbaev left with his head in his hands when he could only find Kim Seung-gyu’s gloves with a shot from close range 11 minutes before the break.
Bento’s team kept pushing for the opener, with Lee Chung-yong somehow firing over the bar at the end of a flowing move in the 36th minute while Koo was again taking aim from distance, only for Kadyrbekov to make another save.
This time, though, the young goalkeeper was only delaying the inevitable as, from the resulting corner by Hong Chul, Kim Min-jae powered his downward header between Kadyrbekov’s legs and over the line.
On the stroke of half-time the Koreans could have had a second, but this time Kadyrbekov was equal to the threat posed by Hong’s strike.
Kadyrbekov continued to be kept busy throughout the second half, the goalkeeper watching as Koo curled his low effort just wide and Hwang Hee-chan hit the side netting.
Hwang Ui-jo thought he had done enough to finally beat Kadyrbekov for Korea’s second in the 68th minute only for his header to come back off the crossbar and bounce on the goal line before Kozubaev headed to safety.
Five minutes later, Hwang Ui-jo saw another attempt hit the woodwork, this time after his immaculate control of Lee Chung-yong’s cross-field ball set him up to shoot, but Kadyrbekov somehow touched the ball onto the crossbar.
The second half was becoming frustrating for the Koreans as, a minute later, Hwang Hee-chan somehow managed to clip the top of the crossbar from a central position with Kadyrbekov — for once — nowhere to be seen.
But in the end, Kim Min-jae’s goal was enough to see off a spirited Kyrgyz Republic and take the two-time champions into the next phase of the competition.