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World Cup-bound S. Korea overcome shaky moments, make adjustments in momentous win

South Korean players Hwang In-beom, Kim Min-jae and Paik Seung-ho (L to R) celebrate with their national flag, Taegeukgi, after the team clinched a berth for the 2022 FIFA World Cup with a 2-0 victory over Syria in Group A match during the final Asian qualifying round at Rashid Stadium in Dubai on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
South Korean players Hwang In-beom, Kim Min-jae and Paik Seung-ho (L to R) celebrate with their national flag, Taegeukgi, after the team clinched a berth for the 2022 FIFA World Cup with a 2-0 victory over Syria in Group A match during the final Asian qualifying round at Rashid Stadium in Dubai on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
They say all is well that ends well, and South Korea ultimately got the job done by defeating Syria in Dubai on Tuesday to clinch an early World Cup spot.

But the process left much to be desired, as South Korea caught some lucky breaks en route to a 2-0 win in their latest match of the final Asian World Cup qualifying round.

The victory in Dubai has sent South Korea to their 10th consecutive World Cup. South Korea coach Paulo Bento tweaked his starting lineup from the one that produced a 1-0 victory over Lebanon last week while playing the entire match.

Midfielder Jung Woo-young picked up a yellow card in the Lebanon game and was automatically suspended for Tuesday. Kim Tae-hwan got the nod as the right fullback over Lee Yong.

South Korea's streak of three consecutive clean sheets was almost snapped in the 10th minute. Mahmoud Al-Mawas took a free kick from the left side, and Omar Khribin appeared to head in the game's first goal. Instead, the Syrian forward was ruled offside, and a video review confirmed the original ruling.

South Korea have experienced some trouble defending set-pieces.

And if South Korea struggles to contain lowly Syria, world No. 86, who are stuck at two draws and five losses in the current phase, then it does not bode well for their chances against far stiffer competition at the World Cup in November.

Kim Jin-su almost gift-wrapped a goal to Syria in the 24th minute. He attempted to pass the ball back to goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu, but Al-Mawas alertly stole the ball, only to misfire his shot to the left.

South Korea held an almost 8-2 edge in ball possession but somehow failed to put a shot on target.

Bento didn't make any substitutions against Lebanon -- "It's not mandatory," Bento said succinctly when pressed for reasons for that decision -- but he made a few changes in the second half in Tuesday's match.

Kwon Chang-hoon opened the second half in place of an ineffective winger Jeong Woo-yeong, who struggled in his first international start at age 22. Lee Jae-sung shifted from right wing to left wing.

With a new midfield, it was the two fullbacks that combined for the opening goal. Kim Tae-hwan delivered a well-placed cross from right and Kim Jin-su headed it home to atone for his earlier miscue.

Bento broke up the successful striker tandem of Hwang Ui-jo and Cho Gue-sung in the 69th minute, with Lee Dong-jun taking over from Cho. Hwang returned to being the lone striker, with three attacking midfielders, Lee Jae-sung, Kwon Chang-hoon, and Lee Dong-jun, backing him up.

And barely two minutes later, Lee Jae-sung assisted on Kwon's goal that put South Korea up 2-0.

Syria did not go down without a fight and Khribin nearly headed one home in the dying moments of the game.

Going foward there will be far less room for such defensive lapses, and South Korea would do well to take some lessons from this win to heart on as they keep moving forward to Qatar. (Yonhap)

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