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Home   /   South Korea shock Portugal to reach the knockout stages of the World Cup

South Korea scored a last gasp winner to beat Portugal and qualify for the round of 16 for just the third time in their history and the first time in 12 years, after previously qualifying in 2002 and 2010. Nothing could seperate Uruguay and South Korea when they played out a goalless draw in the first match-day and it was a similar story in the dying seconds of the tournaments last group games. Both sides finished on four points, with a goal difference of zero, meaning Korea Republic went through through on goals scored. As Paulo Bento, his staff and the whole squad stood on the pitch in a circle watching the end of the Uruguay match against Ghana, news filtered through that the game had finished and there was an eruption of huge emotion on the pitch and in the stands. These were not tears of sadness we had seen days before when Ghana defeated South Korea, these were tears of pure, pure joy.

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Wolves striker Hwang Hee-Chan was the hero for his nation, slotting past Diogo Costa, to send a stadium and a nature into pure chaos. The second half substitute has not featured in the tournament so far as he struggled with injury, but it was definitely worth the wait. The goal came from nothing as Portugal pressed for a winner of their own, which left them too open at the back. The European side had a corner, which was cleared out to Son Heung-Min in his own half, but the Tottenham star burst forward with electric speed, gliding past multiple players towards the Portugal box. The current Premier League golden boot holder then had the presence of mind to slow down, dragging all the defenders towards him, before slotting an exquisite pass through the legs of Diogo Dalot and into the path of Hee-Chan who made no mistake. Four of Korea Republic’s last seven World Cup goals have come in the 90th minute

Son had been very quiet in the tournament, with no goal contributions in the first two matches against Uruguay and Ghana and he looked bothered by the mask he is having to wear due to fracturing four bones in his cheek during Spurs’ game against Marseille. However, the captain came up with the goods when his side needed him most and he will only have elevated his superstar status in his country even more.

This was not just any team that South Korea had beaten to qualify for the next round, it was group winners and former European Champions Portugal, whose team included a certain Cristiano Ronaldo; what an achievement for Son’s side. The Taeguek Warriors have now set up a mouth-watering tie against Brazil on Monday, hoping to go one better than in South Africa in 2010, where they lost to the team they progressed in place of in this years tournament, Uruguay. The game will kick off at four in the morning in Seoul, but there will be nearly all of the 51 million people in South Korea with their eyes on the match, cheering on their hero Son and his teammates.

Many of the players were in floods of tears after the frustrating defeat to Ghana in their second match that seemed like it left them destined for elimination from the tournament, with the hardest game on paper left to play. Those worries of being sent home in the group stages would only have been exacerbated when Portugal took the lead after just five minutes of the match, with Ricardo Horta slotting the ball into an almost empty net, after a brilliant cutback by Dalot. The Braga striker has only played seven times for his country and now scored two goals, this was his first ever international tournament goal other than the Nations League.

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Bento’s side did not crumble despite the severity of the match and the control that Portugal had on possession, equalising after 27 minutes through Kim Young-gwon. The Ulsan Hyundai defender latched on to the ball in the box, after it had bounced off the back of Ronaldo into his path and he made no mistake, smashing the ball past Costa in the Portuguese net. The big central defender was making his 99th cap for his country and his second ever World Cup goal helped to ensure that he will have the chance to pick up his landmark 100th cap in the last 16 of the tournament against Brazil.

South Korea survived a number of close calls throughout the match, with Dalot being denied a few times by Kim Seung-gyu. Ronaldo should have put his side ahead early in the second half, when he completely missed the ball, attempting to volley it, following a brilliant lofted pass by Vitinha. The linesman did raise his flag, but the replays showed the former Manchester United player would have been just onside.

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Brazil provide extremely tough competition in the next round as one of the favourites to win the whole tournament and the five time winners have an excellent record against the East Asian side. South Korea have played the South American side seven times, losing six and winning once in 1999; they lost by five goals to one against Brazil in a friendly in June. However, the Taeguek Warriors will take confidence from Cameroon’s victory against Brazil in the final group game, thanks to a injury time winner from Vincent Aboubakar. Star player Neymar has not played for Tite’s side since the first match against Serbia, due to picking up an ankle injury and is in a race against time to make the tie, but Son’s Tottenham teammate Richarlison has been in fine form this tournament and will be a huge threat for South Korea’s defenders to deal with. It is already brilliant Bento’s side qualified out of such a tough group, but If they can produce a shock upset then they will etch themselves into the history of their country alongside those players of the famous 2002 World Cup campaign, where Korea Republic reached the semi-finals.

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April 2024