For the second time in the first set of matches at the World Cup, the Video Assistant Referee played a pivotal role as a penalty by Andreas Granqvist in the 65th minute after consultation proved decisive as Sweden edged South Korea 1-0 in Nizhy Novogorod to claim a share of the lead in Group F.
The VAR system has caused plenty of controversy for penalty calls after the fact and some not reviewed in the first five days of the World Cup. Referee Joel Aguilar was alerted to review a play in which Kim Min-woo scythed Viktor Claesson as he chased a ball to the right of goal, enraging the Swedish bench as they called for the play to be given a second look.
After watching the replay, Aguilar pointed to the spot, where Granqvist the center back looked as calm as a striker taking the penalty as he sent Cho Hyun-woo in the wrong direction and slotted it into the right corner.
The win gives Sweden a share of the group lead with Mexico, with reigning champion Germany tied with South Korea for third and needing a victory over the Blagult in the next match to keep control of its destiny in its final group finale.
Sweden also had a penalty shout late in the first half turned down when Ki Sung-yueng made a challenge on Ola Toivonen, but VAR felt Ki got enough of the ball not to ask Aguilar to take a second glance.
The European side had all the better chances as South Korea failed to put any of its five shots on frame. Cho made a fantastic save to keep the game scoreless in the 21st minute, ranging to his left to get his leg to a point-blank shot by Marcus Berg. Eight minutes later, it was Taeguk defender Kim Young-gwon coming to Cho’s rescue as he made a last-gasp slide to deflect Berg’s shot after the ball pinballed in the box following a Sweden corner.
Son Heung-Min tried to find space to be a threat for South Korea, but Granqvist led a well-marshaled backline against the Tottenham Hotspur striker, whose penalty appeal on a challenge by Ludwig Augustinssson shortly before halftime went unanswered.
Though not challenging Blagult keeper Robin Olsen, South Korea did fashion some chances in the final 45 minutes. Koo Ja-cheol sent a header wide of target shortly after the interval. In stoppage time, the Taeguk had their best chance, but Hwang Hee-chan’s unmarked header from 10 yards on a cross by Lee Jae-sung went begging wide of the left post.
South Korea coach Shin Tae-young was forced into one substitution early in the contest as Park Joo-ho left in the 28th minute with what appeared to be a severe hamstring injury. Kim Min-woo played the final 62 minutes in his place.
Sweden moves on to play four-time champion Germany on Saturday in Sochi while South Korea will try to regroup versus Mexico earlier that day in Rostov-on-Don