Attacking midfielder Nam Tae-hee headed the only goal in the 36th minute as the Koreans held off a spirited charge from Kuwait at a wet Canberra Stadium to jump to the top of Group A.

Injury and illness had led to most of Uli Stielike's seven changes from the 1-0 win over Oman but his replacements failed to sparkle against inferior opposition, with Kuwait causing several moments of concern and coming close to snatching a draw.

A drab Korean-dominated first half burst into life on the half-hour mark when former AFC Player of the Year Lee Keun-ho finally found space to burst clear behind the Kuwait backline only to have his shot tipped over by goalkeeper Hameed Youssef.

Six minutes later, though, the twice Asian champions were in front. Experienced fullback Cha Du-ri rampaged up the right and Nam met his cross at the near post to break the deadlock.

Those were rare moments of enterprise in a turgid first half where the Koreans surprisingly opted for long, hopeful balls forward which provided little concern for the deep lying Kuwaiti backline.

The second half began with far more vigour as the Kuwaitis, who were thumped 4-1 by hosts Australia in their Group A opener on Friday, showed some attacking endeavour with their campaign on the line.

Forward Ali Al Maqseed rattled the far post with a rasping drive four minutes into the second period to serve warning, with the long-haired attacker brilliantly turning to fashion another opportunity on the hour mark which he wastefully curled high and wide.

Kuwait coach Nabil Maaloul brought on talented striker Bader Al-Mutawa with 25 minutes remaining as the game opened up into an entertaining contest with goalkeeper Hameed and opposite number Kim Seung-gyu both regularly called into action.

Lee Keun-ho was left unmarked to head just wide in the 74th minute, while Park Joo-ho's long range hit eight minutes later was parried away by Hameed as the Koreans failed to close out the contest.

Al Mutawa also had a growing influence down the other end as Kuwait pressed for the goal but the Koreans held firm.

Australia face Oman later on Tuesday in the other Group A match and South Korea will qualify for the last eight as long as the hosts avoid defeat in the Sydney clash.

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