After a long wait of around eight minutes, Korea celebrated again as they sealed the last 16 spot with Portugal, who topped the group despite losing. It was a heartbreaking end for Uruguay, who beat 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 also finished the group stage with four points and has a similar zero goal difference to Korea, but the Asian side has scored four goals compared to the South American two. Ghana finished bottom with three points.
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Portugal took the lead within five minutes with Ricardo Horta’s goal, but Korea kept their composure in their all-or-nothing game and Kim Young-gwon scored the equalizer in the 27th minute. With Uruguay already leading 2-0 against Ghana at half time, Korea needed a goal to progress in the second half. And the winner came late in stoppage time with ‘super sub’ Hwang Hee-chan putting Korea ahead of Uruguay in the knockout race.
The Wolverhampton Wanderers striker slotted in the winner in the 91st minute at the Education City Stadium in Qatar, sending Korean fans into frenzy and tears.
Talisman Son Heung-min, who set up the winner, fell to the ground and lay on his back on the turf at the final whistle. He had tears in his eyes.
The Korean players then huddled on the pitch watching the match between Ghana and Uruguay on a mobile phone while waiting for their place in the last 16 to be confirmed.
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The much changed Portugal had taken the lead in the fifth minute through Ricardo Horta, but the Koreans, who needed to win to have any chance of staying alive, struck back through Kim Young-gwon in the 27th minute.
Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo played a part in the Korean equalizer by turning his back on a corner kick and the ball hitting him to set Kim up.
South Korea and their skipper Son, masked after recent surgery, needed to score again, but they didn’t really trouble Portugal until Son set up Hwang in stoppage time after a fine run.
Before even a ball was kicked, there was a roar at the Education City Stadium every time Ronaldo’s face appeared on the big screen, even during the national anthems. There were also some jeers and chants of “Messi, Messi”.
South Korean coach Paulo Bento, the former Portugal international, had to watch from the stands after he was sent off after 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 dodged a weak Korean challenge and pulled the ball back from the nameline for winger Horta to fire unmarked into the back of the net in front of a crowd of 44,000.
With qualification already secured, Portugal made six changes from the team that defeated Uruguay 2–0, including Dalot and Horta.
But they still looked dangerous every time they went forward in the first half against a Korean defense that missed Napoli’s Kim Min-jae.
The South Korean skipper Son, the attacker of the Spurs, still had to work at this World Cup at the beginning of November after surgery on a fracture around his left eye.
Wearing a black mask to protect the wound, the 30-year-old showed a glimpse of his brilliant best as South Korea chased the victory they so desperately needed.
South Korea threatened to come out on top and in the 27th minute they tied the score.
The 37-year-old Ronaldo, who undoubtedly played at his last World Cup, unintentionally played a central role in the South Korean goal.
Currently without a club following his acrimonious departure from Manchester United, the striker turned his back on a Korean corner and the ball hit his shoulder and fell straight for defender Kim to turn in.
The second half was more of the same: Portugal had more possession and stroked the ball, but South Korea and an increasingly influential Son were a threat at half-time.
Portuguese coach Fernando Santos released Ronaldo after 65 minutes to save his legs, after which striker Hwang came in and proved to be the hero in death.
(With input from agencies)