After a long wait of eight minutes or so, Korea celebrated again as they sealed the last 16 spot with Portugal, who topped the group despite the loss. It was a heartbreaking end for Uruguay, who defeated Ghana 2-0 but missed the knockout bus on goals scored.
Portugal finished with six points from three games, followed by Korea on four points. Uruguay too ended the group stage with four points and have a similar goal difference of zero as Korea but the Asian side has scored four goals in comparison to the South American’s two. Ghana finished at the bottom with three points.
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Portugal took the lead inside five minutes with Ricardo Horta’s goal, but Korea kept their composure in their do-or-die match and Kim Young-gwon scored the equaliser in the 27th minute. With Uruguay already 2-0 up against Ghana at halftime break, Korea needed a goal to progress further in the second half. And the winner came late in the stoppage time with ‘supersub’ Hwang Hee-chan putting Korea ahead of Uruguay in the knockout race.
The Wolverhampton Wanderers’ forward slipped in the winner in the 91st minute at Education City Stadium in Qatar to spark delirium and tears among the Korean fans.
Talisman Son Heung-min, who set up the winner, collapsed to the floor and lay on his back on the turf at the final whistle. He had tears in his eyes.
The Korean players then stood in a huddle on the pitch watching the Ghana v Uruguay match on a mobile phone as they awaited their place in the last 16 to be confirmed.
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A much-changed Portugal had taken a fifth-minute lead through Ricardo Horta but the Koreans, who had to win to stand any chance of staying alive, hit back in the 27th minute through Kim Young-gwon.
Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo played a part in the Korean equaliser, turning his back on a corner and the ball hitting him to set up Kim.
South Korea and their skipper Son, in a mask after recent surgery, needed to score again but they failed to really trouble Portugal until Son set up Hwang in injury time after a fine run.
Before a ball was even kicked a roar went up at Education City Stadium every time Ronaldo’s face popped up on the big screen, even during the national anthems. There were some jeers too and chants of “Messi, Messi”.
South Korea coach Paulo Bento, the former Portuguese international, had to watch from the stands after he was sent off following the final whistle of the Koreans’ 3-2 defeat to Ghana.
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He saw his men fall behind after just five minutes when defender Pepe played the ball down the right to Manchester United full-back Diogo Dalot.
Dalot easily evaded a weak Korean challenge and pulled the ball back from the byline for winger Horta to fire unmarked into the back of the net in front of a 44,000 crowd.
With qualification already secure, Portugal made six changes from the team that beat Uruguay 2-0, Dalot and Horta among those bought in.
But they still looked dangerous every time they went forward in the first half against a Korean defence missing Napoli’s Kim Min-jae.
South Korean skipper Son, the Spurs forward, was yet to get going at this World Cup after surgery for a fracture around his left eye at the start of November.
Wearing a black mask to protect the wound, the 30-year-old showed glimpses of his brilliant best as South Korea chased the win they so badly needed.
South Korea were threatening to get on top and in the 27th minute they were level.
The 37-year-old Ronaldo, surely playing at his last World Cup, unwittingly played a central role in the South Korean goal.
Currently without a club after his bitter departure from Manchester United, the forward turned his back on a Korean corner and the ball hit his shoulder and fell straight to defender Kim to turn in.
The second half was more of the same — Portugal enjoying more possession and stroking the ball around but South Korea and an increasingly influential Son a threat on the break.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos brought Ronaldo off on 65 minutes to save his legs, then attacker Hwang came on and proved to be the hero at the death.
(With inputs from agencies)