SON Heung-min was unmasked and South Korea were liberated from Group H. Eventually. Paulo Bento’s side left it until the 90th minute to secure the win they needed against Portugal and had to wait a further six minutes for confirmation that Uruguay had not pipped them to second place.
A mass huddle gathered in the centre of the pitch erupted when their place in the last 16 was finally secured.
Son threw his mask into the air after creating Hwang Hee-chan’s late winner with a superb run and pass into the substitute’s path.
The Tottenham striker had collected possession deep inside his own half from a Portugal corner before sprinting away and nut-megging Diogo Dalot for Hwang to send a cool finish past Diogo Costa. South Korea had trailed after five minutes but produced the perfect comeback to follow Portugal into the knockout stage.
South Korea needed Ghana not to win or Uruguay not to win by too many in the other Group H finale but also to forget about permutations elsewhere.
Their task was straightforward — just win — and appeared to have been assisted by the Portugal coach Fernando Santos’s decision to make six changes from the team that beat Uruguay, with only one enforced. A nervous opening undermined any advantage that may have been offered by the team sheet, however.
Portugal, already qualified and requiring one point to guarantee first place, plus a potential route to the final that should avoid Brazil, led inside five minutes courtesy of a simple but sweetly executed goal.
The defensive veteran Pepe released Dalot in space down the right and the Manchester United full-back brushed aside a weak challenge from Kim Jin-Su to advance into the area. Dalot picked out the darting run of Ricardo Horta to the near post and the forward swept a fine first time finish into the far corner.
It was a gift that left one Portuguese coach in the crowd fuming. South Korea’s head coach Bento, a former Portugal manager, was sat in the stands as a result of his red card in the aftermath of the defeat to Ghana. He claimed he would sing both national anthems to keep his compatriots and his employers happy. In the end he sang neither.
Bento’s assistant, Sérgio Costa, took charge in the technical area. They witnessed an encouraging response from South Korea to the early setback with their threat from set-pieces, and Portugal’s weakness at defending them, offering a clear route back.
An offside flag denied Kim Jun-Su an equaliser when he tucked away a Son cross that was flicked on to the back post by Cho Gue-Sung.
But South Korea levelled shortly afterwards when Portugal made a collective mess of attempting to clear Lee Kang-in’s corner. Both Dalot and Rúben Neves failed to connect with defensive headers at the near post and, as the ball sailed through, Cristiano Ronaldo turned his back for some inexplicable reason.
The cross cannoned off the Portugal captain’s back and dropped to Kim Young-gwon, who swept a shot beyond Costa at close range.
It was not Ronaldo’s day, much like Uruguay had not been his night. Chasing the one goal that would draw him level with Eusébio’s World Cup record of nine for Portugal, Ronaldo was thwarted by the goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu when clean through – though he also appeared offside – and was unable to convert a difficult diving header after the keeper parried Vitinha’s drive. To the mass disappointment of Ronaldo’s fan club inside Education City, the superstar was sensibly substituted with 25 minutes remaining.
For a team needing just one goal to advance into the last 16 there was remarkably little urgency to South Korea’s second-half performance.
Costa was rarely tested in the Portugal goal and Santos’ substitutes squandered several opportunities to regain the lead on the counterattack. But all that changed in an instant, and at the precise moment the fourth official signalled six minutes of stoppage time, when Son set off on a galloping run that would end in triumph for Hwang and South Korea.
They still had to endure an agonising wait after their final whistle for the result of Uruguay v Ghana to come through. The tension was unbearable, with Bento pacing up and down the tunnel and players watching the other game on a coach’s phone.
Eventually they could rejoice and, for the first time since 2010, South Korea had progressed out of their group. — Guardian Football