South Korea ended the 2011 Asian Cup on a positive note, beating Uzbekistan 3-2 in the third-place play-off on Friday.
A first-half brace to Ji Dong-Won and another goal from strike partner Koo Ja-Cheol had the victors cruising at 3-0 before an Aleksandr Geynrikh double set up an exciting finale.
But despite Geynrikh’s heroics, South Korea held on for victory and third place, ensuring they will automatically qualify for the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia.
South Korea manager Cho Kwang-Rae made just one change to the side who were defeated on penalties by Japan in the semi-final, with Lee Jung-Soo replacing Manchester United star Park Ji-Sung, who is expected to announce his international retirement once the tournament ends.
Kwang-Rae’s tinkering was in stark contrast to Uzbekistan boss Vadim Abramov, who made six changes to the side who conceded six against Australia.
The match made a cagey beginning, with Uzbekistan slightly on top, but Geynrikh and Odil Ahmedov both spurned early half-chances.
South Korea looked like they were feeling the pinch after both their quarter-final and semi-final went to extra time, but against the run of play they took a 17th minute lead.
Lee-Yong Rae went on a surging run down the middle and split open the Uzbekistan defence before releasing Koo with a clever left-foot pass.
With the Uzbekistan defence at sixes and sevens, Koo composed himself before stroking the ball to the left of the diving Ignatiy Nesterov to score his fifth goal of the tournament.
Abramov’s side fought back with Jung Sung-Ryong needing to save impressively to deny Ahmedov from distance while Geynrikh blazed well over the bar before he hit the side netting from a tight angle.
But while Uzbekistan looked competent going forward, they were shambolic at the back and a clinical passing move again exposed their brittle defence after 28 minutes.
Koo, Lee Young-Pyo, Ki Sung-Yong and Lee Chung-Yong were all involved in the sharp, one-touch football that led to Ji’s clever finish, from the edge of the box with Nesterov beaten towards his left again.
Azizbek Haydarov went close for Uzbekistan just after while Ji was given far too much time on the edge of the box to shoot, but could not curl his effort into the net.
But Ji made amends six minutes later with his second goal when he met Hong Jeong-Ho’s superb cross with a strong header that gave Nesterov no chance.
It was a superbly-placed header and Uzbekistan could have easily collapsed, as they did to Australia in the semi-final.
But instead they fought back and their willingness to keep attacking saw them snatch a goal back on the stroke of half-time when Hwang Jae-Won was adjudged to have fouled Shavkat Mulladjanov after the pair tangled just inside the penalty area.
Geynrikh stepped up to take the penalty and after his cheeky chip was disallowed due to an encroachment, he smashed the second attempt past Jung to give his side a lift on the stroke of half-time.
Uzbekistan started the second half clearly energised by their late strike and set up an exciting finale when a neat turn saw Geynrikh create space in the penalty area before he produced a terrific left-foot finish from an angle.
It gave Uzbekistan hope and South Korea’s willingness to sit back only invited them to press forward.
But Abramov’s side were never confident at the back and only the woodwork denied Ji from snatching his hat-trick, when his right-foot curler beat Nesterov.
South Korea were content to run down the clock and while Uzbekistan had late efforts on goal by Geynrikh and Victor Karpenko, they could not manage a dramatic equaliser, giving Kwang-Rae’s side their fourth victory of the tournament.