Chinese fans have raised conspiracy theories about the South Korean national team, which finished second in its group after losing to Malaysia at the Asian Cup.
“Chinese fans are wondering if South Korea’s draw was a deliberate act to avoid a ‘Korea-Japan war,'” Japanese media outlet Football Zone reported on July 27.
Earlier, South Korea drew 3-3 with 130th-ranked Malaysia in the final Group E match of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) 2023 Qatar Asian Cup at Al Janub Stadium in Al Wakrah, Qatar on Nov. 25 (KST). It was a shocking result for South Korea, which was ranked 23rd in the FIFA rankings before the match.
South Korea had already booked their place in the round of 16, but coach Jürgen Klinsmann promised an all-out battle. He sent out a number of starters. Cho Kyu-sung (Mitwillan) remained at the top of the lineup, while Son Heung-min (Tottenham), Lee Jae-sung (Mainz), and Lee Kang-in (Paris Saint-Germain) supported the attack from the second line.
Needing multiple points to top the group, South Korea attacked early and often, and in the 21st minute, Jung Woo-young (Stuttgart) leapt up and unleashed a powerful header from a corner kick. It initially appeared to be blocked by goalkeeper Ahmad Hazmi, but after a video assistant referee (VAR) review, Jung’s goal was upheld.
However, the second half took a strange turn. Malaysia pushed hard, and the Korean defense panicked. In the sixth minute of the second half, Hwang In-beom lost the ball and conceded the equalizer. Then, in the 25th minute, Seol Young-woo (Ulsan HD) touched a Malaysian attacker’s foot while trying to clear the ball and was awarded a penalty kick after VAR, which he converted.
In a crunch moment, Lee Kang-in equalized for South Korea and Son Heung-min calmly converted a penalty in extra time to make it 3-2. However, they were unable to secure the victory as they conceded the equalizer in the last minute of the extra time (105th minute), which was greatly extended due to VAR.
Klinsmannhoe finished second in the group (W1 D2 L7) and advanced to the round of 16. The Bahrain-Jordan match on the same day was won by Bahrain 1-0, meaning Bahrain (2W1D – 6 points) topped the group. South Korea finished second and Jordan (1W, 1D, 1L, 4P) took third. As a result, the highly anticipated Korea-Japan Round of 16 matchup was canceled, and South Korea will play Saudi Arabia in the Round of 16 at 1 a.m. on July 31.
Of course, Saudi Arabia is one of the strong favorites to win the tournament. However, they don’t carry the same weight as Japan, which is ranked 17th in the FIFA rankings (Saudi Arabia is 56th). Add to that the fact that Japan is unique, and it might have been better to avoid a Korea-Japan match.
In response, China has raised suspicions. “South Korea is desperately trying to avoid Japan,” a popular Chinese soccer journalist claimed on Weibo, according to the media. Another journalist said, “They avoided Japan by playing Malaysia, a team with a much lower FIFA ranking. This match should go down in the history of Asian soccer,” another sarcastically wrote. Still another criticized South Korea, saying, “If Japan and South Korea were in the opposite position, would Japan have done the same?”
Chinese soccer media outlet Jokugubo raised doubts by showing Klinsmann’s stern face at 3-2 up in the second half, and then his face brightening after the draw.
But the Japanese had other ideas. “There is also the issue of FIFA ranking points, so a loss or a draw makes it harder for the team. Therefore, I don’t think it was intentional,” “Both teams made a desperate effort, and Korea couldn’t beat a desperate Malaysia,” and “Saudi Arabia is also a strong team, so the draw was not intentional.”
Meanwhile, unlike South Korea, who advanced to the round of 16, China’s exit from the tournament was confirmed after a slow start. With two draws, one loss, two points, zero goals and one conceded in their three group games, the Chinese were unable to make a dent and were knocked out of the Asian Cup group stage for the first time in 13 years.