South Korea's hopes of winning the East Asian Cup on home soil took a major blow on Wednesday, as they were held 0-0 by China.
The Taeguk Warriors were desperately unlucky not to score in their goalless opening match against Australia last Saturday, and they suffered the same fate at the Hwaseong Sports Complex four days later, despite mounting wave after wave of promising attacks.
The result leaves both holders China and South Korea on two points from two matches played in the 2013 edition of the EAFF competition, with Japan and Australia set to meet at the same venue on Thursday.
Watched by 23,675 fans at the modern, multi-purpose arena south of Seoul, a cagey start to the game saw the hosts control possession but struggle to find a route to China's goal.
When chances did arrive, just as in the match against Australia, they were spectacular. On 13 minutes Han Kook-Young fired a shot from distance, forcing China's goalkeeper Zeng Cheng into a fingertip save at full stretch.
Shortly before the half-hour mark, it was Yun Illok's turn to threaten, as he smashed Seo Dong-Hyeon's chipped lay-off to the far corner, with Zeng again equal to the task.
As the half wore on, South Korea stepped up their efforts, Seo twice going close. He first sent a header straight at the goalkeeper before narrowly failing to connect with a back-post cross.
In between those two attempts, Cho Young-Cheol cut inside from the right and unleashed a powerful strike, which flew just wide of the upright.
All those opportunities arrived in a three-minute spell just before half-time.
After a tame opening to the second period, the final proof that it was not to be Seo's night arrived on 65 minutes, when the Jeju United man found himself clean through on goal, but he could only shoot straight at Zeng.
Seo was promptly substitued for Kim Shin-Wook.
The change did little to alter the pattern of proceedings, as China - seemingly with no interest in venturing near opposition territory - kept their shape and proved adept at frustrating South Korea's increasingly desperate attempts to break the deadlock.
A good chance arrived on 77 minutes, when Yeom dispatched a low free-kick that Zeng did well to get behind and save.
The final say went to substitute Go Mooyul, who headed over the crossbar unmarked from six yards out in the 84th minute.
That summed up South Korea's performance and their tournament so far under new manager Hong Myung-Bo, who knows his players will have to beat fierce regional rivals Japan in the final match on Sunday if they are to have any chance of winning the trophy.
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