By Yoo Jee-ho
INCHEON, Sept. 30 (Yonhap) -- South Korea defeated Thailand 2-0 in the men's football semifinals on Tuesday at the Asian Games, setting up a tantalizing inter-Korean showdown for the gold medal.
Powered by two goals late in the first half at Munhak Stadium, South Korea got a step closer to ending its 26-year Asiad drought in the men's football.
North Korea will be South Korea's final hurdle. North Korea had earlier defeated Iraq 1-0 in overtime to reach its first Asian Games final since 1990.
South Korea's Jang Hyun-soo celebrates after scoring the team's second goal over Thailand in the Asian Games men's football semifinals on Sept. 30, 2014. (Yonhap)
The North's last men's football gold came at the 1978 Asian Games in Bangkok. The two Koreas shared the gold medal at the time.
Lee Jong-ho put South Korea on board in the 41st minute by heading in a cross by Rim Chang-woo. The ball bounced in front of the goalkeeper Thamsatchanan Kawin and went in off the left post.
Moments later, South Korea was awarded a penalty, as Weerawatnodom Narubadin took down Lee Jae-sung in the area. Captain Jang Hyun-soo stepped up and promptly doubled the host's lead.
South Korea had chances to score earlier in the match. Lee Jong-ho took a feed from Lee Jae-sung after a bad clearing attempt by Thailand, and Thamsatchanan charged out of the goal to stop the low shot in the eighth minute.
In the 28th, Kim Jin-su took control of the ball deep in the Thai box but couldn't get a shot off before the Thai goalkeeper stepped out to meet his challenge.
Seven minutes later, Jang Hyun-soo's redirection of a corner bounced just wide off the far post.
With a two-goal advantage to start the second half, South Korea kept the pressure on, though Thailand also threatened. In a frenetic stretch around the 78th minute mark, Songkrasin Chanathip and Chappuis Charyl Yannic both tested goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu with shots from close range.
Thailand tried to assert more control but couldn't solve South Korean defense in the end.
South Korean coach Lee Kwang-jong said his players shouldn't get too excited about Tuesday's victory because there is still some business left to take care of.
"Our goal is to win the gold medal, and there's still one more match left to play," he said. "I know the players are really fired up, but they have to calm down and get ready for the next match."
Lee said he doesn't prefer one particular opponent over another for the final.
"Both Iraq and North Korea have their strengths," Lee added. "Our objective has always been to win the gold medal regardless of our opponent, and it doesn't matter who we play."