South Korea did everything it could to qualify for the knockout stage of the 2022 World Cup on Friday, shocking Portugal 2-1 in Group H, but luck was still needed in the end.
Thanks to goals from Kim Young-gwon and a 91st-minute winner from Hwang Hee-chan, the Asian side earned its first win of the tournament and a sliver of hope of progressing through the group.
But the players couldn’t properly celebrate their achievement of beating the Euro 2016 champion until the result of the other group game between Uruguay and Ghana was in the books.
With La Celeste leading the Black Stars 2-0 as injury time began, the Taegeuk Warriors knew one more goal from Uruguay would send them packing as the teams were tied on points and on goal difference, but South Korea was ahead on goals scored.
As the Korean players searched for any scrap of information from the game which was still being played at the Al Janoub Stadium – it had started seven minutes later – players and coaches huddled around people with access to phones on the pitch as they streamed coverage of the other match.
As the seconds ticked away, and repeated attacks by Uruguay came to nothing, South Korean hopes rose amongst the fans and squad.
And when Nicolás de la Cruz’s freekick flew straight into the arms of Ghana goalkeeper Lawrence Ati-Zigi, South Korea’s qualification was assured. Fans cheered emphatically in the stands, the emotion clear on their faces. Players broke down in tears and embraced each other on the pitch as their achievement dawned on them and the celebrations could begin.
South Korea captain Son Heung-Min was one of those in tears and said this moment has been a long time coming.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment a long time and I believed we could get it done,” Son said, per Reuters.
“I have not been doing a good job as their captain, but my teammates have covered my back. I am so thankful for them and so proud of them.
“They never gave up and made sacrifices for the team.”
Son took it one step further on his Instagram, writing in Korean to his 9.2 million followers: “We didn’t give up and you didn’t give up on us. Love you, Korea!”