South Korea script another fairytale

Dec 02, 2022 11:10 PM IST

No one gave them a chance but Hwang Hee-chan's late winner sent them through to the Round of 16

“Daehan Minguk” reverberated around the Education City Stadium, the chant and the drum rolls getting louder after Ricardo Horta’s early goal as South Korea fans felt their team needed encouragement. Almost in a throwback to 2002, the volume was turned up several notches as Kim Young-Gwon equalised and news spread that Uruguay were winning against Ghana. It was exactly what South Korea needed.

South Korea's winning goal came against the run of play(REUTERS)
South Korea's winning goal came against the run of play(REUTERS)

They also needed at least another goal and keep Portugal from scoring. It happened in the first minute of stoppage time and with the talismanic Son Heung-min, whose presence in the World Cup was a doubt due to injury till recently, involved. From a Portugal corner kick, South Korea broke, with Son reacting first and fast. He motored up with the player following and with three Portuguese players converging found a way to play the ball to Heechan Hwang who scored with a deft placement. Cue bedlam. And more when the giant screens showed Portugal first and South Korea second in Group H with minutes to go.

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Their game ended but Ghana-Uruguay had not and South Korea huddled in the middle to spend what seemed like a lifetime. Finally, it turned out the 2-1 win was enough.

The chants stayed up through the game, getting louder when Son asked for it in the 57th minute after a strong run following a reverse pass from the midfield was deflected for a corner kick. Soon after, Son drove through the midfield and then, close to Argentine referee Facundo Tello, dived resulting in the South Korean superstar being asked to get up and get going.

Cristiano Ronaldo was not among the raft of players Portugal left out. Not having played at Manchester United because he was not up to speed with the rest of the team after missing the start of the pre-seasons and slipping in the pecking order before the acrimonious departure, mid-season fatigue was certainly not his problem. Rust possibly was because he had yet to make his presence felt in the region that he could soon call home.

Ronaldo had two chances to do that in the first half. But with goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu to beat, after timing his run to beat the defence and meet Pepe’s raking pass from the deep, Ronaldo’s outstep touch was not fine enough and Kim Seung-gyu got a hand. A diving header followed, Ronaldo being the first to react after the goalkeeper failed to collect a powerful shot from Vitinha but it didn’t trouble the goalie.

Neither did Horta’s drive after finding himself in space inside the South Korean penalty area and after Vitinha had twisted and turned to start the move by playing it on the right inside channel.

Trouble had happened for Ronaldo a little before and it led to the equaliser. Son sold a dummy and the corner kick pinged off Ronaldo’s back and ended up being cushioned for Young-Gwon who swung it home. Twenty-seven minutes into the game, the teams were level.

After Son had made those two runs, Im-Beom fired a screamer that goalkeeper Diogo Costa parried. Then, Hwang slalomed parallel to the goal before Pepe, using all his experience of 15 years of international football, decided enough was enough dispossessing the Korean with a neat interception.

That was in the 67th minute. Three minutes earlier, Portugal had made a triple substitution with Ronaldo among the players who had to call it a night. One that by the standards he sets for himself he would not like to remember. Portugal would hope that international football’s highest goalscorer will be warmed up by the time the knockout rounds get going though they have also shown that life can go on swimmingly without him.

Portugal had gone ahead in the fifth minute and again it was Pepe who had played a long ball. It reached Diogo Dalot, one of the changes made for this game, who cruised past South Korea left back Jim Su-kim and had Horta running in to receive the cut back which he slotted home with an angular delight.

Portugal made six changes after having sealed qualification following wins against Ghana and Uruguay. Defenders Dalot and Antonio Silva came in the defence with Matheus Nunes, Vitinha and Joao Mario in midfield that started without Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva and William Carvalho. Horat replaced Joao Felix.

South Korea, whose coach Paulo Bento was in the stands serving a suspension had to omit Kim Min-jae because he was not fit. Min-jae was replaced by Kwon Kyung-won. South Korea also gave midfielders Lee Jae-sung and Lee Kang-in starts.

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    Dhiman Sarkar is based in Kolkata with over two decades as a sports journalist. He writes mainly on football.

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