MANCHESTER: FIFA president Sepp Blatter, never slow to lay into inadequate refereeing, would not have enjoyed the crucial errors which helped Brazil run down South Korea in their Olympic semi-final at Old Trafford.
The Brazilians did not need any assistance, such is their class and technical mastery. But twice Czech referee Pavel Kralove denied the Asian outsiders clear penalty claims and this meant Brazil were eased to their 3-0 victory courtesy of one goal from Romulo in the first half and two from Leandro Damiao in the second.
They will be clear favourites now to win Saturday afternoon’s Wembley final against Mexico.
Mano Menezes’s men deserved to progress even though Korea were first to threaten, came close to taking an early lead but were then denied a penalty by referee Kralovec.
Sunderland centre-forward Ji Dongwon was the danger man. After the Koreans had nearly scrambled a goal Ji was the victim of a high-kicking clearance by Juan inside the six-yard box as he attempted to head into an empty goal. Referee Kralovec might well have punished Juan with a penalty for dangerous play but, instead, waved play on.
Ji needed treatment but, barely had he stepped back into the game, than he was thundering a 30m drive inches over the bar.
That was enough to awaken Brazil from their arrogrant complacency. Leandro Damiao had a low shot spilled by keeper Lee Bumyoung who then pushed the ball off the follow-up feet of Oscar and then Damiao squared across the face of goal without anyone being close enough to tap in.
Referee Kralovec underlined the inadequacy of his earlier decision when he penalised Korean defender Kim Youngwon for much lower kick into the body of Damiao but this time – and significantly – not in the penalty box but safely out in midfield.
But Brazil’s skill and use of space was beginning to look ominous for the Koreans and they duly took the lead in the 37th minute. Neymar snatched possession in midfield and Leandro Damiao laid the ball off perfectly to his right for Romulo to slot his shot through the legs of keeper Lee Bumyoung.
Romulo, from Vasco da Gama, was the only player in Brazil’s 18-strong squad from a Rio de Janeiro club.
Korea began the second half as eagerly as they had begun the first and Kim Bokyung should have had a penalty when he upended by Tottenham midfielder Sandro.
Referee Kralovec again waved play on and the decision proved crucial because Brazil, in the 57th minute, cruised down to the other end of the pitch and scored a potentially killing second goal. Marcelo slipped Neymar into space on the left and, though the Real Madrid leftback slipped and missed the return pass, Damiao was coming in behind him and made no mistake.
Damiao, linked with Tottenham, became the tournament’s six-goal joint top scorer after a Neymar pass was deflected into his path in the 64th minute. Brazil had now scored three goals in every game . . . but the only target in the final will be scoring at least one goal more than the Mexicans.
S Korea: Lee Bumyoung – Oh Jaesuk, Hwang Seokho, Kim Younggwon, YunSukyoung – Nam Taehee, Ki Sungyeung, Kim Bokyung – Ji Dongwon (Baek Sungdong 77), Kim Hyunsung.
Brazil: Gabriel – Rafael da Silva, Thiago Silva, Juan, Marcelo (Hulk 76) – Romulo, Sandro, Alex Sandro – Oscar – Neymar, Leandro Damiao.
Referee: P Kralovec (Cz).
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