(ATTN: ADDS details in paras 5-6, 19-20)
By Joo Kyung-don
ULSAN, March 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korea nipped Bolivia 1-0 in a men's football friendly on Friday, with midfielder Lee Chung-yong coming off the bench to break the scoreless deadlock late in the second half.
Lee's 85th-minute header gave South Korea their first win over Bolivia in three meetings. The two previous matches ended in scoreless draws.
This was South Korea's first match since losing to Qatar in the quarterfinals of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup in January in the United Arab Emirates and also their first action at home in 2019.
Before a sellout crowd of 41,117 at Munsu Football Stadium in the southeastern city of Ulsan, 38th-ranked South Korea kept 60th-ranked Bolivia on their heels from the get-go. But the Taeguk Warriors' recent trend of dominating ball possession without putting one into the net held up in the first half.
Head coach Paulo Bento started Tottenham Hotspur attacker Son Heung-min at striker for the first time on his watch, hoping to spark an offense that managed six goals in five previous matches. FC Augsburg's in-form forward Ji Dong-won got the nod alongside Son in a 4-4-2 format, a departure from Bento's oft-used 4-2-3-1 setting.
Midfielder Kwon Chang-hoon returned to the national team lineup for the first time since last March, after recovering from a ruptured Achilles' tendon.
It was all South Korea for the opening dozen or so minutes, with midfielder Ju Se-jong firing an early salvo off a free kick in the fourth minute and a long-distance attempt seven minutes later.
In the 18th, wing back Hong Chul set up forward Ji Dong-won for a header that bounced wide right of the net.
Son, who had been scoreless in seven matches under head coach Paulo Bento, had a couple of cracks at ending the personal drought late in the first half.
In the 32nd, Hong Chul's sharp cross found Son at point-blank range, but his hard shot went right at goalkeeper Ruben Cordano. Son had an even better opportunity 10 minutes later. He picked the pocket of Raul Castro in midfield, sped toward the net and had Cordano down and well out of position. Son had the gaping net to himself but somehow rolled his shot just wide of the goal.
South Korean attackers toyed with Bolivian defenders with crisp passes but often tried to get too cute in the box.
They came out with guns blazing in the second half, overwhelming the opponents with an array of shots from all over the field.
In the opening minute of the latter half, Na Sang-ho had an open look but only got a piece of the ball with a volley at the goalmouth. Son put his head on the ensuing corner kick but missed the far side.
In the 53rd minute, Hwang In-beom found himself alone near the penalty spot, but his shot was deflected off the body of Castro and out of play.
After putting up virtually no offense early on, Bolivia almost stunned the hosts at the hour mark. Catching defenders off-guard, substitute Leonardo Vaca cut in from the right wing and fired a low shot to force goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu to make his first big save.
Bento summoned striker Hwang Ui-jo off the bench in the 62nd minute, and the Gamba Osaka forward quickly made his presence felt. Six minutes after entering the match, Hwang had a fast break chance, but his hard shot was turned aside by Cordano.
Another South Korean sub, Lee Seung-woo, tried to break the deadlock with some fine individual effort. After cutting toward the middle, Lee had a great look at the net but airmailed his shot.
Fittingly enough, it was substitute Lee Chung-yong that finally put South Korea on the board. Hong Chul sent a long cross from the left side, and Lee charged in from just outside the box and jumped over defender Marvin Bejarano to put a powerful header past Cordano.
Lee's previous goal for South Korea came in September 2016 in a World Cup qualifying match.
Following recent international retirements of his two contemporaries, Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja-cheol, Lee is one of the elder statesmen for South Korea now at age 30. On this squad, Lee is the second-oldest player, after 32-year-old defender Choi Chul-soon, but Lee leads all current players with 88 caps.