by STEVE HAN
South Korean under-23 men’s soccer team scored a dramatic last-minute goal in the gold medal game of the Asian Games’ soccer tournament for a 1-0 win over North Korea, marking the craziest finish to a final of the quadrennial event that has been held since 1951.
The two Koreas remained scoreless in the 90-minute regulation and in the 30 minutes of extra time. On a corner kick during the added one-minute time before the potential penalty shoot-out, rightback Rim Chang-woo blasted a strong shot past several opposing players after forward Lee Yong-jae’s shot was blocked by an arm of Ri Yong-jik, one of North Korea’s many defenders who swarmed their goal to desperately stop what was bound to be the last kick of the game.
North Korea’s head coach Yun Jong-su and his coaching staff were livid as they argued to the referee that South Korea’s goal should be disallowed since Ri’s hand ball offense came before Rim’s game-winning shot and that a penalty kick must be given instead. However, referee Abdullah Dor Mohammad Balideh explained that he simply used the advantage clause, a unique rule in soccer which allows the referee to not to call an obvious foul if stopping the play causes greater harm to the team that would have been fouled.
After the game, South Korea’s head coach Lee Gwang-jong credited his players, whose compulsory two-year military service is now exempted with the win, for South Korea’s first Asian Games’ gold medal in men’s soccer in 28 years.
“We played a really fun game against North Korea,” Lee said. “The hard work for our first gold medal in 28 years was all done by the players. They really played hard for it.”
Yun, who led North Korea to its first Asian Games final in men’s soccer since 1978, praised his players for playing through fatigue for two games in just three days, both of which went to extra time. However, he contended that the loss is unjust due to “questionable” refereeing.
“I thank my players,” Yun said. “But I said this even before the game. In our previous game versus Iraq, one of our key players was sent off [and became ineligible to play in the final]. Today, the linesman raised the flag [just before South Korea's goal] and confused our players. Refereeing has to be fair. It shouldn’t accommodate the home team. I ask you reporters whether today’s refereeing was fair.”
Going into the tournament, host team South Korea’s 20-man roster was considered as one of the weakest group of players it has fielded at the Asian Games. Son Heung-min, South Korean soccer’s star forward, was forced to pull out of the team after his German club Bayer Leverkusen insisted that it cannot afford to lose the 22-year-old for three weeks during the German Bundesliga season.
Yun Il-lok, one of the brightest young prospects in Korea’s domestic K-League, was expected to fill the void for Son, but he was also ruled out of the tournament after just two games with a torn knee ligament. Another star forward Kim Shin-wook was called up as one of the three overage players before he picked up an injury of his own in the second game and remained sidelined throughout the tournament until the last 12 minutes of the gold medal game.
Despite the absence of its key offensive players, South Korea clawed its way to winning the gold medal by playing stingy defense that didn’t concede a single goal in all seven of the team’s games.
But the real gem of the tournament for South Korea may just be the goalscorer Rim, whose menacing runs up and down the right wing gave the team’s lethargic offense a much needed spark. The 22-year-old lateral defender, who is currently playing in Korea’s second division team Daejon Citizen, opened the scoring for South Korea in this tournament by heading home the go-ahead goal in the first game against Malaysia and against North Korea. He notched the last goal that gave him and his team the gold medal.