With a can't-miss striker coming to the rescue in an otherwise lackluster performance, South Korea managed a 2-2 draw against Georgia in a friendly match in Turkey on Thursday ahead of a World Cup qualifying match.
Bordeaux forward Hwang Ui-jo came off the bench in the second half to score both of South Korea's goals at Basaksehir Fatih Terim Stadium in Istanbul. Jano Ananidze opened the scoring for Georgia in the 40th minute, and Giorgi Kvilitaia netted a late equalizer to round out the scoring.
Hwang now has nine goals in 17 matches under head coach Paulo Bento, more than any other South Korean player on the Portuguese coach's watch.
South Korea met Georgia in preparation for a World Cup qualifying contest against Turkmenistan next Tuesday in Ashgabat.
South Korea, world No. 37, will be chasing their 10th straight appearance in the World Cup, but Thursday's mediocre effort against the 94th-ranked opponents on Thursday won't exactly inspire confidence in a famously fickle and demanding fan base.
Bento doled out a 3-5-2 formation, the second time in three matches that the coach chose to experiment with the back-three scheme. Kwon Kyung-won, Kim Min-jae and Park Ji-soo were asked to handle most of the defensive duties, with Kim Jin-su and Hwang Hee-chan, normally an attacking midfielder or a forward, started as wing backs.
Captain Son Heung-min and Lee Jeong-hyeop started as forwards, with Kwon Chang-hoon and Lee Kang-in, an 18-year-old making his senior international debut, lined up as attacking midfielders. Paik Seung-ho was the lone defensive midfielder.
Gu Sung-yun also made his first international appearance in goal.
Lee Kang-in, the Golden Ball winner as the best player of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in June, made his presence felt early, starting a 13th-minute fast break that set up a decent scoring chance for Kwon Chang-hoon in the box.
Lee took the ensuing corner kick to set up Son for a volley that missed the target high and right.
But midway through the first half, Georgia began upping their offensive pressure and were in full control past the half-hour mark. South Korea in particular had trouble containing Valeri Qazaishvili, an attacking midfielder for the San Jose Earthquakes in Major League Soccer who kept South Korean defenders on their heels all match.
And Qazaishvili set up Ananidze for the first goal of the match, after stripping Kwon of the ball in the South Korean zone and flicking the pass to his left for an open look.
To start the second half, Bento went to his most trusted goal scorer in Hwang Ui-jo. Right on cue, Hwang scored in the 47th minute, when he poked home a Son cross while barely staying onside.
Qazaishvili continued to wreak havoc on the Korean defense. He had an open chance in transition in the 50th, and only a block by the diving defender Kim Min-jae prevented Georgia from taking a 2-1 lead. Five minutes later, in yet another defensive breakdown for South Korea, Qazaishvili found the streaking Tomike Okriashvili, who then set up Otar Kiteishvili for a shot that bounced out of bounds.
Gu made a match-saving stop in the 67th on Giorgi Papunashvili, a second-half sub who found an open field behind South Korea's three backs on a fast break.
And Hwang came through with his second goal of the match in the 85th, heading home a perfect headed pass by Kim Jin-su.
It seemed to seal Georgia's fate, but Kvilitaia snuck behind the napping defense to walk in alone on Gu and beat the helpless South Korean keeper to tie it up at 2-2.
Na Sang-ho and Kwon Chang-hoon just missed the net for South Korea with their last-gasp efforts during added time, as the team couldn't regain the lead that lasted about five minutes. (Yonhap)