Analysis: Korea Republic blanked by Iran as World Cup destiny goes to matchday ten

(  Korea Republic’s FIFA 2018 World Cup fate remains in the balance after they were held to a goalless stalemate by the 10-men of Islamic Republic of Iran in their penultimate qualifier in Seoul.

Koreans misfire

With Uzbekistan losing in China, a win for Korea would have taken them through to Russia 2018 as the second-placed side in Group A. But it was an opportunity that they let slip.

As the graphic below displays, the home side were unable to get a single shot on target. Of their eight efforts on goal, three were blocked and five sailed wide.

It wasn’t just Korea who failed to create meaningful chances, visitors Iran also did not trouble the scoreline, as highlighted in the graphic below. Suspended star striker Sardar Azmoun has been the spearhead for Team Melli’s forward line and without him Iran lacked the same potency, tallying just one shot on target.

But having already qualified for Russia 2018 on Matchday Eight as Group A winners the onus was on their hosts, not Carlos Queiroz’s men, to make the breakthrough – with Iran’s seemingly impregnable defence securing yet another cleansheet.

Defensive Rock

One of the most impressive players in the Iranian backline at Seoul World Cup Stadium was 25-year-old centre-back Morteza Pouraliganji, who shone at the heart of the back four.

The Al Sadd player, who broke onto the international scene at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, demonstrated his defensive solidity and illustrated his importance to Team Melli’s impressively miserly rearguard.

As his the graphic above indicates, Pouraliganji was present in the thick of the action where he made more clearances and recoveries than any other player on the pitch, as well as winning all of his tackles made.

Son fails to shine

In a match that was dominated by defence, it is unsurprising that the forwards struggled. In such a scenario, teams need their star attackers to provide a moment of magic and with Azmoun sitting out, all eyes were on Tottenham Hotspur talent Son Heung-min.

But, unfortunately for the Korea team and the bulk of the 60,000 fans in attendance, the Spurs man failed to get going.

Just one off-target shot from outside the area and a team low passing accuracy of just 54.5% from his 33 passes made was a disappointing return from Asia’s most expensive footballer.

As the heatmap above shows, Son often found himself most involved on the left flank where he was matched up with Iran’s flying fullback Ramin Rezaeian who was among Team Melli’s most utilised players, with a team high of 61 touches, and was rather more involved in the action as his heatmap demonstrates.

With Korea now needing to go to Tashkent and record a victory to guarantee their place at a 10th FIFA World Cup finals, they will need to end a dismal run of away form and hope that Son, and his fellow forwards, rediscover their form in front of goal urgently.