An early Greece goal had fans of the 2004 European Champions impressed, but North Korea’s Jong Tae-Se restored parity twice as Greece were held to a 2-2 draw in Altach, Austria as World Cup preparations reach the crucial stages.
Lauded for his strength and ability, Tae-Se scored twice as Greece blew two leads at the start of each half in a match featuring two sides headed for South Africa early next month.
Set-pieces were the main avenue towards goal as the Greeks made good work of free kicks from Giorgos Karagounis with goals coming from Kostas Katsouranis and EURO 2004 hero Angelos Charisteas.
On both occasions, however, it was Tae-Se who impressed the crowd as he scored two stunning goals with sumptuous strikes past Greek custodian Michalis Sifakis and his half-time substitute Alexandros Tzorvas.
The Greeks quickly showed their efficiency off set-pieces as Karagounis’ second-minute free kick was put to good work.
The Greece captain picked out Sotiris Kyrgiakos at the far post and Liverpool defender played a header on before a surging Theofanis Gekas proved to be a decoy to allow Katsouranis to put the finishing touches on an early goal for Otto Rehhagel’s side.
North Korea could have miraculously struck a leveller five minutes later as captain Hong Yong-Jo had his sharp cross deflected off the crossbar by Greece ‘keeper Michalis Sifakis, before Nikos Spiropoulos managed to take care of the rebound.
The crossbar was a factor again on 24 minutes, this time the iron was on the Koreans’ side as Jong Tae-Se blast from outside the box ricocheted off the horizontal post and into the Greece goal for a cracking equaliser. Nicknamed the ‘Rooney of Asia’, Tae-Se showed why he’s compared with the England striker as he took Yong-Jo free kick in stride before firing a driven effort past an out-of-position Sifakis.
At the other end, Greece’s early goal was a long-forgotten memory by the time the ‘Ellas’ made a rare offensive voyage around the half-hour mark. Another free kick from Karagounis nearly had the Greeks in front again but Theofanis Gekas was unable to get all of the ball as his faint header trickled wide of the North Korean goal.
Greece’s forward strides were just a rare interruption in North Korea’s first-half resurgence. Troubling the Greek defence with his physicality, Tae-Se came close to scoring again as he freed himself of his marker before firing straight into Sifakis, who parried the effort to force a corner.
The Greeks, who came out a much different side after Rehhagel made several half-time changes, emulated their early first-half strike with the go-ahead goal just three minutes into the second frame.
Karagounis was again the catalyst in the Greek attack as the skipper provided a pinpoint cross inside the box, and even though Katsouranis miscued his header, Charisteas made no mistake as he turned his first touch into a golden one for Greece.
The Nuremberg striker had his goal cancelled out immediately as North Korea’s next possession ended up in the back of the net as half-time substitute Alexandros Tzorvas was unable to keep out a bullet effort from Tae-Se as the Kawasaki Frontale hit man notched his second of the night.
The match tempo only slowed down after North Korea’s second equaliser, both sides settling down after a rapid start to the second half.
There were chances, however, with Karagounis nearly turning from provider to goal-scorer as he flashed an effort wide of the Korean goal.
While it was the North Koreans who showed positive signs of ingenuity and creativity in the attacking third, Greece showed some signs of promise as the match reached its final stage.
Pantelis Kapetanos made a run down the right flank before opting to drag a pass back for Alexandros Tziolis at the edge of the Korean box, and the Siena midfielder nearly made most of the opportunity as he lashed a one-time effort just wide.
The inability to contain North Korean superstar Tae-Se, however, ultimately proved costly as North Korea put a dent in Greece’s preparations with a 2-2 draw in Altach.
Greece have just over a week to ponder the result before taking on Paraguay in their final tune-up ahead of the Finals in South Africa, while North Korea tackle Nigeria ahead of their World Cup opener against Brazil on June 15.