Sweden 1, South Korea 0
Group F, Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
In its first World Cup appearance since 2006, Sweden did something it had not done since 1958: It won its opening match, beating South Korea, 1-0, Monday at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.
It was an unexpectedly emotional match, with the chance to make some noise in Group F suddenly on the line for two teams picked by The Post’s Steven Goff to be bottom-dwellers in the group. With the win, Sweden seizes three points, the same as Mexico, and vaults over Germany, which lost to Mexico on Sunday. Next up for Sweden is a match against Germany on Saturday.
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The game was occasionally chippy, with 25 first-half fouls and 39 by the end of the game. Sweden’s goal came on a penalty kick in the 64th minute by Andreas Granqvist. Although referee Joel Aguilar did not grant the penalty after Kim Min-Woo fouled Viktor Claesson, the call was changed upon review and Granqvist sent his kick into the lower right corner as Jo Hyeon-Woo dived the other way.
“We’re tired, but we fought all the way,” Granqvist said in a Fox interview. “I thought it was going to be a penalty kick when the referee blew the whistle, but I had a lot of time to think [about the kick during the review].”
South Korea had chances at the end, including Hwang Hee-Chan missing an open net in added time.
Just after halftime, South Korea had a great scoring chance from Koo Ja-cheol, who only moments before had rolled on the ground in agony after Bo Larsson stepped on his upper calf.
Sweden: vs. Germany in Sochi, June 23, 2 p.m.
South Korea: vs. Mexico in Rostov-on-Don, June 23, 11 a.m.
Scoreless at half
Expectations for this game weren’t great, and it has lived up — or down — to those, with end-to end action, plenty of fouls (25) and zero scoring at halftime. Sweden did have a great chance, though, at the 21st minute, but Jo stopped a close-range shot by Marcus Berg.
The Guardian’s Rob Smyth was succinct about the overall play in the half: “This is poor. Sweden have been the better team, but only in the sense that gout is better than gangrene.”
South Korea came out strong, pressuring Sweden even as it raised the question of whether South Korea could keep up the intensity. Twenty-one minutes into the match, South Korea’s Jo Hyeong-Woo made a stellar stop on Marcus Berg, who couldn’t believe his misfortune.
Shortly before halftime, Sweden had a chance, with Mikael Lustig sending a cross toward the goal. Claesson, however, mistimed his header into an opponent and over the goal.
As ESPN points out, the Swedes haven’t won in their last seven World Cup openers and South Korea is winless in its last six World Cup matches.
This game is likely to draw a lot of Italy fans who will hate-watch, still more than a little salty about how Sweden bounced the Azzurri from the tournament. A group of Italian fans in Canada took out an ad in a Swedish newspaper, explaining how they’d be rooting for “Everyone but Sweden!”
Don’t tell the Swedes, who have turned out in droves (reportedly over 30,000 are in Russia, compared with around 2,000 South Korean fans).
One of Asia’s most consistent performers, South Korea — which has qualified for every World Cup since 1986 — advanced through a weak qualifying section. Coach Uli Stielike was fired midway through qualifying after a loss to Qatar and ties in the country’s last two games. He was replaced by Shin Tae-yong.
There were accusations leading up to World Cup that Sweden was spying on South Korea’s workouts and Shin alluded to that, telling reporters: “We put four different numbers on our players’ shirts in training to confuse Swedish spies. Europeans can’t tell our players apart by their faces.”
- Last World Cup showing: Round of 16, 2006.
- Best finish: Runner-up to Brazil in 1958, when the tournament was in Sweden.
- Notable: Sweden is a four-time semifinalist, but this marks its first trip to the World Cup since 2004. It also advanced to the round of 16 in 1998 and 2002.
- FIFA world ranking: 24. ELO world ranking: 22.
- Last World Cup showing: Group stage, 2014.
- Best finish: Fourth in 2002, when the tournament was staged in South Korea and Japan.
- Notable: This marks South Korea’s 10th appearance in World Cup play.
- FIFA world ranking: 57. ELO world ranking: 39.
Players to watch
Sweden’s Emil Forsberg has a knack for killer feeds, but don’t bother looking for Zlatan Ibrahimovic; he isn’t playing for the Swedish national team anymore. Jakob Johansson, whose goal sent Sweden into the World Cup, will miss the tournament with a knee injury. The star of the South Korean team, Tottenham’s Son Heung-min, is known for his counterattacking ability and should be the most recognizable player for many American fans. (He had 18 goals and 11 assists for Tottenham this season.)
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