AL AIN (Reuters) – South Korea beat China 2-0 to secure top spot in Group C at the Asian Cup on Wednesday as Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min made his first appearance in the tournament for Paulo Bento’s side.
The Spurs forward arrived from London on Monday following his club’s Premier League loss to Manchester United and was not expected to start South Korea’s final group encounter.
Yet with the Koreans needing a win to claim pole position, Bento selected the 26-year-old and goals from Hwang Ui-jo and Kim Min-jae secured all three points for the Taeguk Warriors.
China finished second in the group on six points, three adrift of the Koreans and three ahead of Kyrgyzstan, who also made the knockouts after a 3-1 win over Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Philippines.
Iran topped Group D after a 0-0 draw with second-placed Iraq while Vietnam beat Yemen 2-0 to finish third and retain their hopes of a place in the next round.
Hwang put Korea in front from the penalty spot after 14 minutes and the Gamba Osaka striker almost doubled his side’s lead in the 25th minute, only to see his curling shot from the left come back off the post.
Kim added the second six minutes into the second half with a powerful header from Son’s corner, and the Spurs man was substituted three minutes from fulltime.
“All teams become stronger when they have their best players, and Son is one of our best players,” said Bento.
“He gives us more options going forward, an area that we need strengthening.
“We made the decision to play Son because every coach wants to field the players who can influence games. Son is a player who can play in different positions which, in turn, allows the team to play in different ways.”
Kyrgyzstan advanced to the knockout rounds as a Vitalij Lux hat-trick helped them beat Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Philippines.
Eriksson’s side finished bottom of Group C while Kyrgyzstan were guaranteed one of the four places available in the last 16 for the third-placed sides with the best records.
Iran and Iraq played out a goalless draw in Dubai to ensure Iran topped Group D on goal difference from the Iraqis after both finished with seven points, four ahead of third-placed Vietnam.
Nguyen Quang Hai curled a free kick into the top corner to give Vietnam the lead against Yemen after 38 minutes and Que Ngoc Hai’s penalty sealed the win for Park Hang-seo’s side, who will have to wait for Thursday’s results to discover if they will remain in the competition.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar meet to determine the Group E winner with Lebanon due to face North Korea in the same group. Japan take on Uzbekistan to decide top spot in Group F where Oman play Turkmenistan.
(Editing by Toby Davis)