Swede and Soar for South Korea in FIFA World Cup

Granqvist scores from the spot with VAR help as Sweden defeat South Korea to take early lead in Group F.

Published: 19th June 2018 02:22 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th June 2018 07:02 AM   |  A+A-

Sweden's Viktor Claesson, left, is tackled by South Korea's Kim Min-woo conceding a penalty kick for Sweden during the group F match between Sweden and South Korea at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Nizhny Novgorod stadium in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, Monday, June 18, 2018. | AP

Express News Service

NIZHNY NOVGOROD: Sandwiched between matches involving Germany, Brazil, England and Belgium, Sweden's game against South Korea was always going to be lost amidst the lot. And while the end result — Sweden winning 1-0 — was always on the cards, the buildup to the game was something straight out of a Hollywood spy caper.

Over the last couple of weeks, the World Cup was rocked (read moved very mildly, for no one gave the issue much space) by spying claims as Sweden manager Janne Andersson apologised for having someone at one of Korea's closed training session.

The 'spy', he claimed, was simply a scout who did not know when the session was closed. He did not pause to answer the juicier of the claims, that the scout had actually rented a house overlooking Korea's training ground.

The Korean response was, at the same time, both hilarious and unsettling for its acceptance of racist stereotyping. Manager Shin Tae-yong told reporters the day before the game that his response was to merely swap the bibs with the player numbers around. His reasoning was that without the bibs, the Swedes wouldn't able to tell his players apart!

But whatever secret tactics South Korea were working, they certainly were not on display on Monday. The Koreans ran a lot, arguably had the better opening quarter and missed a bunch of chances that came their way. The latter cost them a point — Hwang Heechan missed an easy header with just seconds left on the clock.

The Swedes though got better with time, egged on by the men in yellow, who were making all the noise in the stadium. As they broke into their own version of the Viking clap, the South Korean fans were busy taking videos, their voices only being heard when their team was in the thick of the action. But pretty soon both sets of supporters were up in arms. For the game had a new protagonist — the Video Assistant Referee.

While there is no doubt that it has its benefits, this is the third time in three days that VAR is defining the game. Kim Minwoo lunged desperately to take the ball of Viktor Claesson, bringing down the Swede as well, only for the referee to wave away penalty claims. The Swedish fans though knew that the battle was not over and immediately began shouting for VAR review and the referee duly obliged. Perhaps this is one unforeseen consequence of VAR— whereas before the referee only had to take the heat for a further 30 seconds after denying a penalty claim, he is now subject to catcalls for a good minute and a half.

VAR inevitably called for a penalty and Andreas Granqvist duly obliged. That was just after the hour mark and Sweden never really looked like relinquishing their lead, except for that moment of madness from Hwang.

As he walked off the field alongside his beleaguered troops, Shin can at least relax about one thing. He needn't come up with ingenious ways to ward off opposition spies. After this display, Mexico — their opponents on Saturday — aren't sending any.


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