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Auspicious start

Koo scores brace as Korea trips Bahrain to open Asian Cup

Korean national team manager Cho Kwang-rae praised midfielder Koo Ja-cheol after watching his side’s 2-1 win over Bahrain in their Asian Cup group match Monday at the Al Gharafa Stadium in Doha, Qatar.

The 22-year-old Jeju United player was the hero of the night. Koo not only scored a brace to claim the victory, but was instrumental throughout the match with his dazzling moves that kept Bahrain defenders on their toes.

He was also the source of multiple opportunities, providing sharp passes to the forward line, before being replaced late in the second half.

“He is a great midfielder. He has tremendous skills and, most of all, he has great understanding of the game,” Cho said after the match.
Korea’s Koo Ja-cheol (right) celebrates with Lee Chung-yong after scoring against Bahrain. (Yonhap News)
Korea’s Koo Ja-cheol (right) celebrates with Lee Chung-yong after scoring against Bahrain. (Yonhap News)

Although the Taegeuk Warriors had to play without their best striker Park Chu-young of AS Monaco, who is out of the competition due to a knee injury, the 56-year-old manager had other ideas.

On Monday, the former Gyeognam FC manager opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation, deploying the 20-year-old debutant Ji Dong-won as the lone striker and Koo in the middle between the Premier League’s Korean pair ― Manchester United winger Park Ji-sung and Lee Chung-yong of Bolton Wonderers. And Cho’s new formation worked well thanks to the inspired Koo.

Korea dominated the match almost from the outset, but struggled to find the back of the net despite having numerous attempts. The young striker Ji was energetic, but still lacked the final touches in front of the goal.

Koo, however, broke the deadlock in the 39th minute. He fired a short-range shot just inside the penalty line after receiving a hard pass from Ki Sung-yueng. It was deflected from the thigh of the Bahrain defender, past the stranded goalie and into the net.

Six minutes into the second half, the Jeju United midfielder scored his second goal of the game. Fullback Cha Du-ri of Celtic, who is one of Korea’s best players in the game, launched a blasting long-range in the middle. The goalkeeper made a diving save, but Koo comfortably side-footed the ball into an empty net.

The role of Bahrain offense was almost limited to a standing spectator. But they managed to fire back with a debatable penalty in the 85th minute.

Defender Kwak Tae-hwi received a straight red card for bringing down Abdulla Al-Dakeel inside the box. Unfortunately for Cho and the team, Kwak will now miss Friday’s crucial clash against Australia. “It would have been better if we had avoided conceding the penalty, but it happened, so there’s nothing we can do about it,” said Cho.

The Korean national team has not won the Asian Cup since 1960. They finished third at the previous tournament. But this year, they are gunning to end its 51-year-old title drought.

Judging by Monday night’s match, Cho’s mission seems not impossible. But before that, Cho has to face one of the favorites in Australia, which derailed India 4-0 on Monday. Korea is currently level on points with Australia at the top of Group C. Korea meets Australia on Friday at 10 p.m. Korean time.

By Oh Kyu-wook (