FIFA World Cup

South Korea leaves it late, then waits, before reaching last 16

South Korea leaves it late, then waits, before reaching last 16

THRILL. South Korea's Hwang Hee-chan and Hwang In-beom celebrate after the match as South Korea qualify for the knockout stages.

Kai Pfaffenbach/REUTERS

Talisman Son Heung-min sets up Hwang Hee-chan to fire a last-gasp winner against the favored Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal

AL RAYYAN, Qatar – South Korea’s Hwang Hee-chan scored in added time to snatch a 2-1 comeback win over Portugal on Friday, December 2 (Saturday, December 3, Manila time), but they then faced an agonizing 10-minute wait on the pitch before discovering it was enough to send them into the World Cup last 16 on goals scored.

Having started the day bottom of Group H, Korea looked to be going out with a whimper as they trailed already-qualified Portugal 1-0, with Uruguay leading Ghana 2-0 half an hour into their game.

But when Kim Young-gwon leveled after 27 minutes they knew one more goal could be enough – providing Uruguay did not extend their lead.

It came when talisman Son Heung-min broke from a Portugal corner and slipped a perfect passto Hwang who fired past Diogo Costa to spark wild celebrations.

However, the other game had started its second half seven minutes later, leaving the Korean players and staff in a center circle huddle, watching the action unfold across the city on mobile phones.

Another goal would have put the South Americans through but, though they piled forward, it did not materialize and the Koreans exploded in joy at having reached the knockout phase for the first time since 2010 – when they lost to Uruguay.

Portugal top the final standings on six points.

South Korea and Uruguay have four points with the same goal difference but Korea went through to the knockout stage by virtue of scoring four goals to the two of Uruguay, who before Friday were the only team in the tournament not to have scored.

Son’s tears

At the final whistle, a fatigued Son collapsed onto the ground and removed his mask, tears streaming down his face.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment a long time… and I believed we could get it done,” Son, whose two previous World Cups had ended in group stage exits, said.

Then he graciously added: “I have not been doing a good job as their captain, but my teammates have covered my back. I am so thankful for them and so proud of them.”

“They never gave up and made sacrifices for the team.”

Few of the team’s players would agree with those comments as, despite Son’s massive profile in South Korea and his Premier League riches, he would run through brick walls for his country.

“I was convinced he would pass me the ball,” said goalscorer Hwang of Son. “It was an excellent pass and it made my job much easier.”

“It was difficult waiting for the Uruguay-Ghana result but we proved we could make the knockout phase,” he added. “I would like to share these great feelings with the people back home.”

Nerve-shredding drama

The turnaround marked a third successive World Cup night of nerve-shredding drama and also made it the first time three Asian Confederation teams have made the last 16 with Japan and Australia also through.

The Koreans will face Brazil next. They will again be outsiders but, having scored four of their last seven World Cup goals in the 90th minute or beyond, have shown they never give up.

South Korea did not get off to a great start on Friday as winger Ricardo Horta put Portugal ahead in the fifth minute when he tucked away a neat cut-back by Diogo Dalot.

Korea leveled when Kim forced the ball home after a corner.

Cristiano Ronaldo, seeking a goal to equal Eusebio’s national World Cup record of nine, struggled to make an impact, though Kim Seung-gyu did save one sharp early effort.

The Portugal captain had another one-on-one with Kim but his effort was too weak to trouble the keeper and he was eventually taken off after 65 minutes.

Korea struggled to get a strong foothold in the game but, just as they did in vain in their defeat by Ghana, they showed an amazing commitment to keep going – and eventually reaped the reward.

Portugal will now face Switzerland.

“We wanted to go through with a win, we wanted to go through playing good football,” coach Fernando Santos said. 

“We’re not going to lose confidence but it’s a warning, a serious warning.” –

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