South Korea slide into World Cup final 16 after beating Portugal

A 2-1 victory sees South Korea join Portugal in the knockout stages after Uruguay’s 2-0 win over Ghana proves not enough to advance.

South Korea vs Portugal
South Korea's Hwang Heechan celebrates their winning goal [Pedro Nunes/Reuters]

Hwang Heechan’s 90th-minute winner has put South Korea through to the round of 16 at the World Cup with a 2-1 win over Portugal.

Hwang made his strike after captain Son Heungmin sprinted the length of the pitch in possession to set up the goal at Qatar’s Education City Stadium.

Portugal opened the scoring after five minutes, thanks to Ricardo Horta.

Group H was so competitive that it wasn’t until eight minutes after the final whistle blew that South Korea knew their fate: Uruguay’s 2-0 victory against Ghana was not enough to edge Son’s men on goal difference.

The South Korean team huddled on the centre circle, crowding round a phone showing the final, frantic, moments of their rivals’ game before exploding into joyous celebrations as they marked making it beyond the World Cup’s group stage for only the third time.

Portugal had already qualified for the knock-out stages before this final group game, and made six changes from the team that beat Uruguay 2-0; Dalot and Horta among those bought in. The Koreans had to win to stand any chance of going through.

Before a ball was even kicked a roar went up at Education City every time Portugal captain Cristiano 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 vs Portugal
Cristiano Ronaldo rues missing a chance on goal [Pedro Nunes/Reuters]

South Korea coach Paulo Bento, a 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.

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, scoring in his debut at a major tournament.

After the early opener, Kim Younggwon gave the Koreans hope in the 27th minute when a corner struck Ronaldo on the back and fell kindly for the defender to sweep the ball home for the equaliser.

But Portugal still looked dangerous every time they went forward in the first half against a Korean defence missing Napoli’s Kim Minjae. The second half was more of the same – Portugal enjoying more possession and stroking the ball around, but with South Korea and an increasingly influential Son a threat on the break.

South Korean skipper Son, the Tottenham Hotspurs 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.

The last-gasp victory for South Korea catapulted them from fourth to second place in Group H. They will play the winner of Group G, likely to be Brazil – but nothing can be guaranteed in this World Cup.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies