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Soccer: South Korea wins Athens ticket, Iran ruing chances

By Kambakhsh Khalaji

Tehran, May 2, IRNA -- South Korea celebrated its fifth consecutive win and qualification for the football tournament of 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, capital of Greece, in Beijing Saturday.

Although China was hosting Group A leader in front of boisterous fans, it was the Korean side, which possessed the ball and field as the second-leg qualifying match kicked off.

The home team was lucky enough to hold Korea until the 45th minute but it succumbed seconds into the additional time before halftime as Cho Jae Jin netted with a nice header.

China planned to restore some prestige after the restart but it was stunned on 48 minutes when Kim Dong Jin -- unmarked in the penalty area -- smashed home with a powerful shot.

Korea did not find it necessary to make more attacks on the Chinese woodwork, allowing the careless home side to exchange the balls just behind the area.

The victory handed Korea a berth in the Olympics.

Korea has won maximum 15 points out of five games while the second-placed Iran has collected nine of the same matches.

Iran lost to South Korea 1-0 in the first leg in Azadi stadium, west of Tehran, and has been scheduled to play the leader in an ineffective return match in Seoul on May 12.

Under former manager Mohammad Mayeli-Kohan, Iran dropped six deciding points due to losses to Korea and China in its first-leg matches.

China, which beat the Iranian side 3-1 in Beijing had vowed to overcome Korea in Beijing to keep Iran's hopes alive.

Steered by new head coach Hossein Faraki, Iran managed to take revenge on China in the second leg in Azadi stadium on April 18, winning 2-1.

Entertaining Malaysia on April 30, Iran hit six to win the second leg 6-0.

Iran had crushed the Malaysian team 4-1 in Kuala Lumpur.

But Korea's victory over China on May 1 poured cold water on Iran, leaving it ruing the opportunities it has missed.

The critical knives, which have been already sharpened targeted the officials after Korea's qualification.

The mass-circulation dailies particularly sports papers have censured the top officials in their front-page stories Sunday.

"Finished", a single word headlined the Persian-language sports daily Iran-e Varzeshi in half top of its front page in full black color.

Abrar-e Varzeshi, also a sports paper, addressing Iran's Football Federation president wrote, "Mr. Daadkan the Critic! Thank You."

"Olympics Missed, Hopes Shattered," said the sports daily Khabar-e Varzeshi in its banner headline.

... Payvand News - 5/2/04 ... --

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