Substitute Hwang Hee-chan scored a stoppage time winner to rescue South Korea from the brink of World Cup elimination in a thrilling 2-1 win over already qualified Portugal on Friday.
The Wolverhampton Wanderers striker headed home the winner in the 91st minute to spark delirium and tears among the Korean fans at Qatar’s Education City Stadium.
Talisman Son Heung-min, who set up the winner, fell to the ground and lay on his back on the grass in the final leg. He had tears in his eyes.
Korean players were huddled on the pitch watching the Ghana vs Uruguay match on their mobile phones, waiting to confirm their place in the last 16.
A much-changed Portugal took a fifth-minute lead through Ricardo Horta, but the Koreans, who had to win to stay alive, pulled one back in the 27th minute through Kim Young-gwon.
Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo was involved in Korea’s tie, turning his back on a corner and tapping the ball in to set up Kim.
South Korea and their skipper, wearing a mask after recent surgery, had to score again but were unable to trouble Portugal until Sonek Hwang set it up in injury time after a fine run.
Before a ball was kicked a buzz went up 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 Korea coach Paulo Bento, a former Portugal international, had to watch from the stands after the Koreans were sent off at the final whistle of their 3-2 defeat by Ghana.
He saw his men trailing after five minutes when defender Pepe volleyed the ball past Manchester United defender Diogo Dalot from the right.
Dalot easily avoided a feeble Korean challenge and laid the ball back for winger Horta to fire unmarked in front of the 44,000 crowd.
With qualification already secured, Portugal made six changes from the team that beat Uruguay 2-0, including signings Dalot and Horta.
However, they looked dangerous in the first half with Napoli’s Kim Min-jae missing every time they went forward against a Korean defence.
South Korean skipper Son, the Spurs forward, was still out of action at the World Cup after undergoing surgery for a fractured left eye in early November.
Wearing a black mask to protect his injury, the 30-year-old showed glimpses of his best as South Korea chased down a much-needed win.
South Korea threatened to get on top and equalized in the 27th minute.
The 37-year-old Ronaldo, surely playing in his last World Cup, inadvertently played the leading role in South Korea’s goal.
Today, after leaving Manchester United without a club, the striker turned his back on a Korean corner and the ball hit his shoulder and fell straight to defender Kim to tap in.
The second half was more of the same: Portugal enjoyed more possession and caressed the ball, but South Korea and an increasingly influential Son bat threatened at the break.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos took off Ronaldo to save his legs in the 65th minute, and attacker Hwang came on and proved to be the hero at the death.