FIFA World Cup, Group H: Ecstasy for South Korea, agony for Uruguay

With Portugal already assured of a place in the pre-quarterfinals, Uruguay and South Korea finished level on points, but the latter made it to the round of 16 by virtue of more goals scored.

Star act: Bruno Fernandes was the creative heartbeat of the Portuguese team in the group stage.

Star act: Bruno Fernandes was the creative heartbeat of the Portuguese team in the group stage. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

With Portugal already assured of a place in the pre-quarterfinals, Uruguay and South Korea finished level on points, but the latter made it to the round of 16 by virtue of more goals scored.

On the last day of group games at the Qatar World Cup, in the dying moments of play in Group H, South Korea was tied 1-1 with Portugal at the Education City Stadium while Uruguay led Ghana 2-0 at the Al Janoub.

Portugal was already through. The second knockout spot in the group was up for grabs for the remaining three.

After darting across the length of the pitch, Son Heung-min squeezed a pass through three defenders. Hwang Hee-chan got to Son’s pass, placed it to the right of Portugal’s Diogo Costa and won the contest for South Korea in stoppage time.

Ecstasy for South Korea was agony for Luis Suarez’s Uruguay. The striker was moved to tears on the bench as he heard the news of the Asians winning.

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Uruguay, leading 2-0, needed a third to go through. Both, Uruguay and Korea, were level on points, but the latter was going through by virtue of more goals scored.

The grace of stoppage time ended. Uruguay was knocked out — the second giant killing by South Korea in as many editions. Not to forget its win against Portugal.

The Asian side was the surprise package from Group H. It just did not relent. Not when Uruguay dominated, not when it was losing 2-3 to Ghana, and not even when it just had six minutes to save its journey in Qatar.

It dug in, earned a draw against Uruguay, and then won against Portugal to reach the last 16 for the first time since 2010.

Uruguay, meanwhile, gets a chance to rethink its approach after the early exit. It seemed like a team still in transition. It looked toothless in attack and was wasteful of even the little it created. The team’s results — a goalless draw to South Korea and 0-2 loss to Portugal — reflect that. The final flourish against Ghana proved insufficient for the two-time champion.

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Portugal topped the group. While its first match against Ghana was a narrow win, Fernando Santos would doff his hat to the team’s win over Uruguay. The team finally showed depth to not rely solely on its greatest player ever — Cristiano Ronaldo. Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix and Bernardo Silva were among the top performers. It lost the final match, but with a heavily rotated side aimed at resting players for the Round of 16 game.

Ghana, coming into the tournament as the lowest-ranked team, punched above its weight. Yet, it was a World Cup of ‘ifs’ for the African team.

If not for a slip by Inaki Williams in stoppage time, the Black Stars would have earned a point against Portugal. If not for Andre Ayew’s missed penalty versus Uruguay, the team might have made it to the knockouts.

Nonetheless, Ghana gave one of the best matches of the tournament, a 3-2 win over South Korea.

Sealing it: South Korea’s Hwang Hee-chan scores his team’s second goal against Portugal. The 2-1 victory took the Asian side into the round of 16.

Sealing it: South Korea’s Hwang Hee-chan scores his team’s second goal against Portugal. The 2-1 victory took the Asian side into the round of 16. | Photo Credit: AFP

Best goal — Hwang Hee-chan vs Portugal

The goal stands out above the rest simply for what was at stake, and the time at which it was scored. And while Hwang might get on the scoresheet, the industry and the craft behind the goal were Son’s.

With the game tied at 1-1 in stoppage time, South Korea was defending a corner. Son charged from his penalty area to collect the cleared header. He was midway through his half when he decided to dash to the other end. The only sensible option for a team trailing. Portugal players realising the danger swamped back. South Korea was outnumbered six to two.

At the edge of the Portuguese penalty area, Son stopped and looked up. Three players were in front of him. Yet he found a pass between them, which landed at Hwang’s feet, who had arrived as crucial support.

The striker collected the ball and ended the move with a composed finish. The goal got South Korea to the knockouts.

Best player — Bruno Fernandes

Bruno Fernandes was the creative heartbeat of the Portuguese team in the group stage. In the first game against Ghana, Fernandes assisted goals for Felix and Rafael Leao.

Against Uruguay, Fernandes served the cross to Ronaldo which went into the net. The goal was claimed by the forward but eventually went to the Manchester United player. He then won the penalty and converted it to seal the win.

At four, Fernandes recorded the most goal contributions by a Portuguese player in a single World Cup edition, eclipsing teammate Ronaldo.

The tally could have been even higher for the midfielder as he had a shot saved by Uruguay’s Sergio Rochet and another hit the post.

Best Match — South Korea 2-3 Ghana

South Korea had pulled off a dogged 0-0 draw against Portugal while Ghana lost 2-3 to Portugal. A second loss for the Black Stars would have been curtains on their World Cup campaign.

Ghana took the lead in the 24th minute with Mohammed Salisu firing in from close range. Mohammed Kubus added a second before halftime with a faint header off an Andre Ayew cross.

Staring at defeat, South Korea found its feet in the second half. Cho Gue-sung put his team level with two headers in the space of three minutes. But the game was not yet over. Kubus struck again in the 67th minute to restore the lead for Ghana.

For the remaining 23 minutes and the 10 minutes of added time, South Korea huffed and puffed to produce a winner but failed. Lawrence Ati-Zigi made three crucial saves, and Thomas Partey made a clearance off the line to keep the Asian side at bay.

The game ended with South Korea manager Paulo Bento being sent off for protest after his side was denied time to take a corner in the dying moments of the game.

PositionTeamPlayedWonDrawLostPointsGFGAGD
1Portugal3201664+2
2South Korea31114440
3Uruguay31114220
4Ghana3102357-2
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