Despite the defeat at Munsu Football Stadium here in Ulsan, South Korea secured one of the four automatic Asian berths to football's global extravaganza in Brazil next year. South Korea finished second in Group A with 14 points, two points behind Iran.
|South Korean players walk toward their bench after having lost to Iran in their final World Cup qualifying match at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan on Tuesday. (Yonhap News)|
Uzbekistan also ended with 14 points in Group A, thanks to its 5-1 win over Qatar on Tuesday, but finished behind South Korea on the goal difference tiebreaker.
In the final Asian qualification round, South Korea scored a total of 13 goals while giving up seven, while Uzbekistan netted 11 goals and allowed six.
In Group B, Japan and Australia secured places in the tournament. The top two nations from each of the two groups in the final qualification round earned World Cup tickets.
South Korea has played in every World Cup since the 1986 edition in Mexico. It was the co-host of the 2002 World Cup with Japan. South Korea made its first World Cup appearance in Switzerland in 1954.
After a tentative first half, Iran turned it up a notch in the second half and drew the first blood in the 60th minute, capitalizing on a South Korean defensive miscue.
Reza Ghoochannejhad stripped Kim Young-gwon of the ball on the right wing and drove into the box before curling it past goalie Jung Sung-ryong.
South Korea played with more urgency after Iran's score. In the 75th, Kim almost atoned for his mistake, but his close-range shot following a free kick was kept out by Ahmadi. The Iranian keeper also made a spectacular stop on the ensuing shot by Jang Hyun-soo.
Kim was on the prowl again in the 87th, but his header missed wide. Jang jumped in on the attack in injury time, but his left-foot strike from the top of the arc sailed left of the net.
Moments later, Kim Chi-woo's sharp cross found Lee Keun-ho's head, but the shot also missed the net. South Korea was in control in the early portion of the match, albeit with little to show for its superiority in possession.
The home team's best first-half chance came in the 40th minute, when Son Heung-min sent Lee Myoung-ju away on a breakaway. But the South Korean midfielder was brought down by Ahmadi, who charged out of the net to keep the score level.
Iran didn't register a shot on goal in the first half and seemed willing to settle for a draw before coming out with more energy in the second half.
The match on Tuesday was played under some tension between the two sides after a series of barbs exchanged between their coaches and players throughout the past week.
Iran's post-match celebration also turned sour, as South Korean fans hurled debris at the visiting players running around the pitch holding their national flag.
By qualifying for its eighth consecutive World Cup, South Korea joined an exclusive company of football powers.
Only five other countries -- Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina and Spain -- have made it to at least eight World Cups in a row. South Korea's current streak is the longest in Asia. Japan has qualified for the 2014 World Cup for its fifth consecutive appearance. (Yonhap News)