South Korea pulled off a remarkable comeback win over Portugal in their final World Cup group game to book a place in the knockout stages at the expense of Uruguay on the narrowest of tie-breaker margins – it went all the way down to goals scored.
An equaliser from centre-back Kim Young-gwon and a last-gasp winner from substitute Hwang Hee-chan were enough to secure the win that resulted in South Korean tears of joy.
Portugal were already assured of a place in the next round before kick-off, but South Korea needed a win to have any hope of reaching the last 16 for the first time since 2010. And it was the worst possible start in that sense when Ricardo Horta netted early for the Europeans.
South Korea thought they had equalised just over 10 minutes later when a wide free-kick from Son Heung-min gave Kim Jin-su the chance to turn in a rebound following a decent reflex Diogo Costa save. But the offside flag was quickly up.
It was a set-piece warning that Portugal didn’t heed. So when the ball came into the box again just before the half hour mark, South Korea were back in it. Cristiano Ronaldo turned his back instead of attempting to clear, which saw the ball drop perfectly at the feet of Kim Y.G. – he couldn’t miss.
Right after getting back on level terms, goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu made a top save to deny Ronaldo. An eventual flag ensured it wouldn’t have counted, but neither party was to know.
Kim S.G. remained fairly busy until half-time, saving well from Diogo Dalot, Vitinha and Horta before the interval. The stop from Vitinha rebounded to Ronaldo, who strained every sinew in his neck to get the difficult diving header on target, but couldn’t.
South Korea had a clear gameplan, trying to keep it tight at the back and spring forward when possible, but it wasn’t until after half-time that they created a few more counter attack chances from open play rather than relying on set-pieces.
Portugal still had the lion’s share of possession, yet Kim S.G. was the less busy of the two goalkeepers compared with the first half. Diogo Costa, meanwhile, had to be alert midway through the second half to beat away a powerful effort from Hwang In-beom.
With substitutions from both sides disrupting the rhythm, the game looked as though it was petering out into a draw, which wasn’t enough for South Korea. But as the clock ticked into stoppage time and Portugal fired a corner into the box, the ball broke to Son H.M. for the perfect counter attack.
The Tottenham man drove the ball forward, holding off pressure, before sliding it through to Hwang H.C., who had the composure to fire the ball low into the net.
South Korea player ratings (4-2-3-1)
GK: Kim Seung-gyu – 8/10 – Made numerous saves, particularly in the first half, that proved crucial to the final result in the end.
RB: Kim Moon-hwan – 7/10 – Overall, defended well down the left and limited what Portugal could create down that side.
CB: Kwon Kyung-won – 7/10 – Came into the starting XI and did a stellar job in place of Kim Min-jae.
CB: Kim Young-gwon – 7/10 – Scored South Korea’s equaliser and was an obvious threat from set-pieces. Defended firmly as well.
LB: Kim Jin-su – 6/10 – Got forward to put crosses into the box that caused Portugal problems. Thought he had scored but it was flagged offside.
CM: Hwang In-beom – 6/10 – Had a powerful effort saved in the second half.
CM: Jung Woo-young – 7/10 – Put in a big shift to keep Portugal at bay.
RM: Lee Kang-in – 7/10 – His first half corner caused Portugal enough problems that led to the equaliser. Put other crosses into the box.
AM: Lee Jae-sung – 6/10 – Had to work really hard out of possession.
LM: Son Heung-min (c) – 8/10 – The lead source of creativity for his team, drifting centrally in open play but also providing good delivery from out wide. Switched to the right after the break and eventually made the winner possible with a perfect assist.
ST: Cho Gue-sung – 6/10 – Produced one short that needed saving but didn’t see loads of the ball because of how his team had to set up. First point of press.
SUB: Hwang Hee-chan (66′ for Lee J.S.) – 8/10
SUB: Son Jun-ho (81′ for Kim Y.G.) – N/A
SUB: Hwang Ui-jo (81′ for Lee K.I) – N/A
SUB: Cho Yu-min (90′ for Cho G.S.) – N/A
Sergio Costa – 9/10 – Stepped in on the sidelines with Paulo Bento suspended and the game plan ultimately worked to absolute perfection.
Portugal player ratings (4-2-3-1)
GK: Diogo Costa – 6/10 – Made a few saves but conceded twice.
RB: Diogo Dalot – 8/10 – Got forward freely and was a major creative outlet. Assisted the breakthrough goal with quick feet and good vision.
CB: Pepe – 6/10 – Made the early goal with a pinpoint long pass down the right.
CB: Antonio Silva – 6/10 – Did most of what was asked of him.
LB: Joao Cancelo – 6/10 – Played very high at times and forced a decent save from Kim in the first half. Much more like his usual self than in the previous games.
CM: Ruben Neves – 6/10 – Patrolled the midfield spraying passes. Taken off relatively early in order to give him some rest.
CM: Vitinha – 7/10 – A couple of shots from distance needed saving and probably Portugal’s best player in the central areas.
RM: Ricardo Horta – 7/10 – A goal after five minutes was the perfect start to his first ever appearance at a major tournament. Not scared of trying his luck.
AM: Matheus Nunes – 6/10 – Passed well and had one long range shot on target, but didn’t do enough to really open South Korea up.
LM: Joao Mario – 5/10 – Hardly misplaced a pass but not at all inventive.
ST: Cristiano Ronaldo (c) – 4/10 – His desperation to score for personal ambitions was absolutely clear. At fault for South Korea’s equaliser by turning his back on a cross into the box.
SUB: Joao Palhinha (65′ for Nunes) – 5/10
SUB: Rafael Leao (65′ for Neves) – 6/10
SUB: Andre Silva (65′ for Ronaldo) – 6/10
SUB: William Carvalho (82′ for Vitinha) – N/A
SUB: Bernardo Silva (82′ for Joao Mario) – N/A
Fernando Santos – 6/10 – Took the opportunity to rest several players with a place in the last 16 already guaranteed. Arguably shouldn’t have started Ronaldo again.