The Taegeuk Warriors were made to fiercely battle for a berth in the Asian Cup quarter-finals as brave Bahrain pushed them all the way.
South Korea needed 120 minutes to progress, with Kim Jin-su’s delicious diving header sending them through.
Korea broke Bahrain’s resistance on the stroke of half-time. Skipper Son Heung-min picked out marauding right-back Lee Yong and his fizzed low cross was only parried by Bahrain goalkeeper Sayed Shubbar into the path of Hwang Hee-chan who fired home.
Several opportunities were wasted to kill the game off and that gave Bahrain hope. Hope morphed into heroism 13 minutes from time when Mohamed Al Romaihi pounced to level. Korea’s class eventually told but they will be mightily relieved.
It’s not all about Son: The captain rightly grabs a lot of the spotlight for Korea but while he was a factor in victory, several supporting actors caught the eye.
Hwang Hee-chan scored the crucial opening goal and buzzed around the pitch with intent throughout, while holding midfielder Hwang In-beom knitted things together beautifully in the engine-room. Both are only 22 and have bright futures.
Bahrain don’t bow down: Bahrain showed Korea the respect they deserved, but they did not bow down to the might of one of Asia’s heavyweights. They had to defend for long periods and don’t possess the quality Korea have in abundance, but they dispelled the myth that they are minnows.
After weathering a Taegeuk Warriors surge at the start of the second half, they settled and re-established an attacking rhythm.
Warriors are wasteful: General Paulo Bento sent his side out with intent in the second half, knowing if they could stamp their authority on the game, victory could be quickly sewn up. But though chances were fashioned, his troops failed to fire.
Bahrain indiscipline: Before they equalised, Bahrain had threatened to implode. Needless fouls were given away and every one was followed by a group of perplexed players haranguing the referee. Cooler heads eventually prevailed but senseless bookings could have derailed them.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
Gear change: Korea had offered precious little before taking the lead on the stroke of half-time, but they opened up the second period intent on stepping on the accelerator. String-puller Son started to sparkle with shots peppering the Bahrain box.
They stepped it up a notch again in extra-time and were eventually rewarded.
4th min CHANCE: A hopeful long punt forward from Bahrain keeper Sayed Shubbar is only half-cleared and Mohamed Marhoon’s venomous shot whistles just wide
32nd min CHANCE: Son plays a cute reverse ball into Hwang Ui-jo but Shubbar gets there just ahead of him
33rd min CHANCE: Beautiful football, Hwang Hee-chan plays a one-two with Hwang In-Beom. The winger shows good feet but a superb tackle from Hamad Al Shamsan denies him.
43rd min GOAL: Started by Son, who sprays play wide to the onrushing Lee Yong, the right-back’s fizzed delivery causes havoc, parried by Shubbar but only to Hwang Hee-chan who gleefully sweeps home.
70th min CHANCE: Jamal Rashed fashions some space and his sumptuous curler is goal-bound before being clawed behind by Kim in the Korea goal.
77th min GOAL: Bahrain have persevered and been rewarded. Mahdi Al Humaidan’s effort is cleared off the line by Hong Chul. But Al Romaihi is on hand to smash in at the third attempt.
90th+4 min CHANCE: A glorious chance to win it. Waleed Al Hayam doesn’t get enough on his attempted back pass and Hwang Ui-jo is in. His side foot shot is sloppy and hopelessly wide.
105th min CHANCE: Son swings in a corner and Kim Young-gwon is afforded a free header but nods wide somehow.
105th+2 min GOAL: It doesn’t matter. Korea attack and Lee’s cross is buried by substitute Kim Jin-su’s brilliant diving header.
107th min WOODWORK: Korea are trying to close the game out and Ju Se-jong’s deflected daisy cutter crashes off the post.
South Korea: B+
Class eventually told and they proved they are more than just the Son of their parts. The Tottenham titan, however, does unite a talented cast and they are now playing well, which should fill opponents with fear.
Brave, bold, but beaten. Getting to the knockouts is an achievement and going out to one of the favourites by just one goal warrants nothing but praise.
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