Port Elizabeth: South Korea eased to a 2-0 win over a lackluster Greece side in Saturday’s first Group B match of the World Cup.
Lee Jung-soo tapped in unmarked to open the scoring in the seventh minute at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium and captain Park Ji-sung doubled the lead in the 52nd with a slick solo goal.
The Manchester United midfielder collected a misplaced pass from Vassilis Torosidis and skipped past two defenders before slipping a shot across goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas and in at the far post.
Striker Park Chu-young had another three chances to score for South Korea and Fanis Gekas had a shot saved with 10 minutes left for what was Greece’s first clear effort.
“If we had been a little bit calmer, we could have had an even better result,” South Korea coach Huh Jung-moo said. “In terms of scoring goals, it could have been a little bit better for us.”
Greece coach Otto Rehhagel stood on the touchline at the end of his team’s fourth straight World Cup finals defeat, his hands on his hips and a fierce scowl on his face.
“We really have to get our act together,” Rehhagel said. “We’ve got to improve a couple of things and be brave and courageous enough.”
Nigeria, Greece’s next opponent, and Argentina play Saturday in the other Group B match.
In the two-thirds full 45,000-seat stadium, South Korea spent much of the opening minutes giving the ball away to the former European champions and defending desperately.
But it scored from its first real chance.
Ki Sung-yong curled in a free kick with his right foot from near the left corner flag and the ball brushed the top of Konstantinos Katsouranis’ head before reaching Lee at the far post, where the central defender easily tapped into an unguarded net.
“You’ve got 18 people in the penalty area and there is a hard hit cross, anything can happen if the defender doesn’t head away the ball properly,” Rehhagel said.
Rehhagel took off captain Giorgos Karagounis at the interval but South Korea continued to dominate despite Greece’s adventurous three-man attack and Park Ji-sung made it 2-0.
Torosidis gave the ball away to Park midway inside his own half. Park surged forward and beat two sliding tackles before coolly scoring with a low shot.
“We said we shouldn’t sit on our laurels and we should attack,” Huh said. “I said at halftime that we would have more opportunities and we should take advantage.”
Greece mustered only a couple of blocked shots and appealed desperately for a late penalty when Gekas’ shot hit a defender. The South Korean had his arms raised but replays showed the ball hit his body.
Gekas then unleashed a shot from about 12 meters (yards) but goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong punched it over the bar.
South Korea faces Argentina on Thursday and must now try to improve on its 2006 showing.
After reaching the 2002 semifinals as co-host with Japan in 2002, South Korea won its 2006 opener against Togo but was still eliminated from the first round after drawing with France and losing to Switzerland.
The Euro 2004 winners dominated the opening exchanges and Torosidis shot over the bar from a third-minute corner by Karagounis, but South Korea rallied and won its crucial free kick near the corner.
“We conceded that really quick goal,” Alexandros Tziolis said. “It took us by surprise and threw us off our game.”
Park Chu-young put a low shot wide and the lone striker then surged clear into the area after breaking free of Greece’s four-man defense, only for Tzorvas to block his firm shot and deflect it over the bar.
Rehhagel substituted Karagounis for Christos Patsatzoglou at halftime, but South Korea created the first chance of the second half through Cha Du-ri, whose shot was blocked by a defender.
Park scored and, after Gekas’ late efforts, Lee Chung-yong had a final chance pushed past the post by Tzorvas.
Greece goes for its first ever World Cup win against Nigeria on Saturday, when central defender Vangelis Moras should be fit to return from a persistent groin injury.
“I think it was a fair result. We didn’t play well,” Tziolis said. “We have very few options. There’s no other option than to go all out.”