Hwang Hee-Chan strikes dramatic winner to send South Korea through after beating Portugal

South Korea 2-1 Portugal: Despite an early lead through Ricardo Horta, the Asian nation turned things around to reach the World Cup knockouts at Uruguay’s expense in the most incredible fashion

Mark Critchley
In Doha
Friday 02 December 2022 18:43 GMT
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Just as the PA system announced six minutes of stoppage time at the Education City Stadium, Son Heung-Min’s wait was finally over. For the previous 90, he had barely had a chance to do what he does best and run at a broken and splintered defence. Now, with half of it caught upfield for a set piece, finally, here was his chance.

Son burst away, darting towards Portugal goalkeeper Diogo Costa, yet even his furious pace was not at full pelt after a gruelling final game in Group F that had appeared headed for a draw. White shirts began to crowd him. He had run into traffic. But thankfully, he had Hwang Hee-Chan in support.

The Wolverhampton Wanderers forward’s late finish and Uruguay’s mere two-goal victory over Ghana – eventually confirmed five minutes or so after the sound of the final whistle, to a joyous Korean huddle in the centre circle of the pitch – was enough for Asia’s most successful footballing nation and its biggest star to reach the last 16.

Son did not score the last-gasp goal that sent South Korea to the knockout stages of a World Cup for only the third time in their history – he is still waiting for his first in Qatar – but given his tears of joy at full time, you imagine he will remember this as the most important assist of his career.

He was not the only one crying. Hwang’s strike left Luis Suarez lachrymose on the Uruguayan bench, which will at least be some consolation to a Ghana side who must also now pack their bags.

Portugal’s place in the last 16 was secure and so was top spot unless a defeat here was matched by a Ghana victory. Despite those low stakes and Fernando Santos making six changes in all, Ronaldo started for the third consecutive game, hoping to make more of an impact than he did on Bruno Fernandes’s cross for the first against Uruguay.

Korea’s chances of earning the three points required to have any hope of qualifying were hit by the absence of Kim Min-Jae, with a knock restricting the impressive Napoli defender to a place on the substitutes’ bench. Paulo Bento, their suspended Portuguese head coach, was not allowed to even make it that far. Sergio Costa, his assistant, acted as stand-in.

In other words, their task for the evening was already difficult, and only made harder by a slow start. Portugal were happy to go long and one searching Pepe pass released Diogo Dalot down the right. Beating Kim Jin-Su with ease, the Manchester United right-back cut the ball back from the byline, teeing up Ricardo Horta for an emphatic finish at close range.

Portugal’s suboptimal line-up had established an early lead but was still ceding possession to Korea, who looked particularly threatening from set plays. Jung Woo-Young fumbled a chance to convert Cho Gue-Sung’s flick-on from one corner, with Kim Jin-Su turning in from an offside position, but dead ball situations were becoming their best hope of an equaliser.

And after being dismissed by his club and claiming to score a goal that was not his, Korea’s next corner provided Ronaldo’s latest moment of indignity at this tournament. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner crouched down and turned his back on Son’s delivery, the ball promptly deflecting off his No 7 and into the path of Kim Young-Gwon, who swept home to level.

Kim Young-Gwon sweeps home an equaliser for South Korea

Ronaldo was probably quite happy to disown this particular touch but no in-ball sensors were required to find who was responsible this time. The greatest goalscorer of his generation might have made amends before the break but was first flagged well offside after missing a one-on-one, then skewed a diving header after Kim Seung-Gyu parried Vitinha’s shot.

Korea’s drum-banging supporters were even chanting Lionel Messi’s name at times, taunting Ronaldo, but at least he was involved. That was more than could be said for Son, who had taken the corner which led to the equaliser but had otherwise stayed quiet.

The Tottenham winger led his teammates in a huddle before the restart for the second half as though to rally them as well as himself, but with Uruguay leading comfortably at the Al Janoub, Portugal denied Korea’s captain the space his pace craves and play it safe, as Ronaldo’s 65th-minute substitution indicated.

Yet Korea still had everything to gain at that point. One goal would have been enough to progress so long as Uruguay did not get a third, yet Korea lacked the facilities to create the volume of chances needed, and the finishing to convert the few they fashioned. One powerful volley from Son looked goalbound until it struck Joao Cancelo’s side.

Son ended with more shots than any player on the pitch, such was his desperation to force Korea through, but in the end he secured progression with a pass. Surrounded by Cancelo, Joao Palinha and William Carvalho, he still carved out space to thread in Hwang. Celebrations had to be put on hold for confirmation of Uruguay’s result. It finally came and the wait was over.

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