An early Greece goal had many at the Cashpoint Arena thinking the 2004 European Champions were on their way to a rout this evening, but North Korea’s Jong Tae-Se assured that didn’t happen as the Greeks were held to a 2-2 draw in Altach, Austria.
Lauded for his strength and ability, Tae-Se scored twice as Greece blew two leads at the start of each half in a match featuring two sides heading for South Africa early next month. Set-pieces were the main avenue towards goal as the Greeks made good work of free-kicks from Giorgos Karagounis with goals coming from Kostas Katsouranis and Angelos Charisteas.
On both occasions, however, it was Tae-Se who impressed the crowd as he scored two stunning goals with sumptuous strikes past Greek goalkeeper Michalis Sifakis and his half-time substitute Alexandros Tzorvas.
The Greeks quickly showed their efficiency off set-pieces as Karagounis’ second-minute free-kick was put to good work. The Greece captain picked out Sotirios Kyrgiakos at the far post and Liverpool defender played a header on before a surging Theofanis Gekas proved to be a decoy to allow Katsouranis to put the finishing touches on an early goal for Otto Rehhagel’s side.
North Korea could have miraculously struck a leveller five minutes later as captain Hong Yong-Jo had his sharp cross deflected off the crossbar by Greece ‘keeper Michalis Sifakis, before Nikos Spiropoulos managed to take care of the rebound.
The crossbar was a factor again on 24 minutes, this time the iron was on the Koreans’ side as Jong Tae-Se blast from outside the box ricocheted off the horizontal post and into the Greece goal for a cracking equaliser.
Nicknamed the ‘Rooney of Asia’, Tae-Se showed why he’s compared with the England striker as he took Yong-Jo's free-kick in his stride before firing a driven effort past an out-of-position Sifakis.
The goal seemingly energised North Korea as another free-kick for the World Cup Group G minnows found the crossbar as Yong-Jo hit the woodwork again.
Momentum continued to lie in the favour of the Koreans as Tae-Se would have likely secured a brace if it wasn’t for the quick thinking of Sifakis who leaped off his line to deny the J-League striker.
At the other end, Greece’s early goal was a long-forgotten memory by the time the Piratiko made a rare offensive voyage around the half-hour mark. Another free-kick from Karagounis nearly had the Greeks in front again but Theofanis Gekas was unable to connect with all of the ball as his faint header trickled wide of the North Korean goal.
Greece’s forward strides were just a rare interruption in North Korea’s first-half resurgence. Troubling the Greek defence with his physicality, Tae-Se came close to scoring again as he freed himself of his marker before firing straight into Sifakis, who parried the effort to force a corner.
The Greeks, who came out a much different side after Rehhagel made several half-time changes, emulated their early first half strike with the go-ahead goal just three minutes into the second period. Karagounis was again the catalyst in the Greek attack as the skipper provided a pinpoint cross inside the box, and even though Katsouranis miscued his header, Charisteas made no mistake as he turned his first touch into a golden one for Greece.
The Nuremberg striker had his goal cancelled out immediately, however, as North Korea’s next possession ended up in the back of the net as half-time substitute Alexandros Tzorvas was unable to keep out a bullet effort from Tae-Se as the Kawasaki Frontale hitman notched his second of the night.
The match tempo only slowed down after North Korea’s second equaliser, both sides settling down after a rapid start to the second half. There were chances, however, with Karagounis nearly turning from provider to goal-scorer as he flashed an effort wide of the Korean goal.
North Korea captain, Yong-Jo, came just as close at the opposite end when he too fired an effort wide of the Greek goal.
While it was the North Koreans who showed positive signs of ingenuity and creativity in the attacking third, Greece showed some signs of promise as the match reached its final stage.
Pantelis Kapetanos made a run down the right flank before opting to drag a pass back for Alexandros Tziolis at the edge of the Korean box, and the Siena midfielder nearly made most of the opportunity as he lashed a first-time effort just wide.
The inability to contain North Korean superstar Tae-Se, however, ultimately proved costly as North Korea put a dent in Greece’s preparations with a 2-2 draw in Altach.
Greece have just over a week to ponder the result before taking on Paraguay in their final tune-up ahead of the Finals in South Africa, while North Korea tackle Nigeria ahead of their World Cup opener against Brazil on June 15.
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