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By John Irish
REIMS, France, June 17 (Reuters) - Norway booked a ticket to the last 16 at the women’s World Cup after an uninspiring 2-1 victory against a battling South Korea side thanks to a penalty in each half from Caroline Graham Hansen and Isabell Herlovsen.
Norway, the 1995 champions, join hosts France in the knockout stage and will face either Italy, Brazil or Australia, while Korea go home without a point but with some pride restored after Yeo Minji scored late for an exciting finish.
The Norwegians finished second with six points behind hosts France, who have nine after beating Nigeria 1-0 to maintain a perfect record. The African champions can still qualify as one of the best third-placed teams.
Norway opened the scoring through a fourth minute penalty from Barcelona-bound Hansen after South Korean captain Cho Sohyun tugged defender Maria Thorisdottir’s shirt.
Korea reacted by getting their foot on the ball, dominating possession and creating a string of half chances with Chelsea playmaker Ji Soyun pulling the strings and Lee Geummin getting some freedom on the wing, but they lacked a finishing touch.
Sensing his team’s difficulties at the Stade Auguste-Delaune, Norway coach Martin Sjogren changed the system around at halftime, moving Hansen behind the forwards from the wing and it paid off immediately.
“Both halves started quite well, but the other side are very good at passing and I think that it was quite hard for the players,” Sjogren said. “The Koreans played a really good match and were better than expected. We need to do better.”
Hansen surged into the box in the 49th minute and was brought down, with Isabell Herlovsen converting from the spot.
Norway will have to sweat until Saturday’s last 16 match in Nice after 24-year-old Hansen had to come off with an ankle injury from the challenge by Kang Chaerim but by then the Norwegians sensed they had done enough.
Karina Saevik should have made it 3-0 after 63 minutes but shot wide from a cut-back with the goal at her mercy.
With the game petering out, Lee Geummin produced a moment of magic in the 78th minute by backheeling a through ball to Yeo, who slid home to give the Koreans hope.
They almost snatched a draw with the same two players linking up again in extra time, but Yeo headed just wide.
Korea, who reached the last 16 in 2015, were soundly beaten 4-0 by France and 2-0 by Nigeria in their opening games.
“We gave all our energy to score and restore the pride of Korean football,” South Korea coach Yoon Duk-yeo told reporters. “Even though we lost I believe our players did their best. As head coach I’d like to apologise that I didn’t get the result we expected.” (Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Ken Ferris)