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.
UAE advanced to the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup in dramatic fashion, beating Kyrgyzstan 3-2 after extra time.
UAE held a 2-1 lead as the game passed the regulation 90 minute mark, but Tursunaly Rustamov headed in a stunning equaliser to extend the drama.
Luck was on the side of the hosts though as UAE were awarded a penalty on 103 minutes and Ahmed Khalil restored their advantage.
Kyrgyzstan then might have sent the game to a penalty shoot-out, but Rustamov struck the crossbar with eight minutes left.
UAE held on and will next face Australia for a place in the semi-finals.
Coach Alberto Zaccheroni said: “We have seen a very difficult game tonight.
“In extra time our players, who I am so grateful to, found a great performance with high spirit and positivity.”
Japan captain Maya Yoshida revealed he is relishing his new role as a father figure as the Samurai Blue usher in a new era under former national team Olympic coach Hajime Moriyasu.
Southampton centre-back Yoshida remains a key figure for Moriyasu, who was assistant to Akira Nishino at last summer’s World Cup before taking over following Japan’s run to the last 16 in Russia.
Yoshida took over the armband from Makoto Hasebe who retired after the tournament. It is a transitional period for the national team, with fellow icon Keisuke Honda also bringing the curtain down on his international career last summer, while lynchpins of previous World Cup and Asian Cup squads were not selected for the 2019 edition being held in the UAE.
The likes of Borussia Dortmund pivot Shinji Kagawa and Leicster City striker Shinji Okazaki were left at home by Moriyasu, with a new wave of young talent – Ritsu Doan, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Wataru Endo – being blooded.
Yoshida, who won his 92nd cap in the 1-0 last 16 victory over Saudi Arabia in Sharjah on Monday, is happy to be someone for the new generation to look up to.
“It’s my new role of the squad. As you said they are quite young players as well as a new manager and new challenges we have with Japan,” said the 30-year-old, although he revealed he’ll be happier if he can lift a record-extending fifth Asian Cup with Japan in the Emirates.
“I’m really happy with my position right now but I’m going to be much happier when I get the Asian Cup.”
He praised fellow centre-back Takehiro Tomiyasu after the narrow victory over the Green Falcons saw Japan set up a quarter-final with Vietnam on Thursday.
Tomiyasu, just 20, featured in a back-line containing 28-year-old Marseille right-back Hiroki Sakai and the legendary Yuto Nagatomo – Japan’s sixth most capped player – at left-back.
But the man who plays in Belgium’s top-flight with Sint-Truiden and was winning only a sixth cap, scored the winner and generally looked at ease in his surroundings, earning adulation from his skipper.
“Today, defensively we played well,” said Yoshida.
“The set-pieces were key. Tomiyasu opened the game and he’s just come to the international level so I’m really happy with him and really happy also with the result and our commitment in the squad. I think we are getting better every game.
“I think the previous three games we had to deal with different conditions. We had some players only finishing the J League at the beginning of December, some of them had a winter break in Europe while I continued to play in England when I came into camp.
“The temperature is different and the jet leg too, many things are different, which affect the performance. But after three games we play much better, consistently.”
The Samurai Blue last lifted the continental title since 2011 and have yet to truly break out at the tournament. They have won all four games but all of them have come via one-goal margins. They enjoyed only 27 per cent possession against Saudi and had to defend stoutly for much of the game.
A mouthwatering potential last four clash awaits with Iran – Asia’s highest ranked team in FIFA – but Yoshida is not getting too carried away.
“Iran is one of the best countries in Asia but the most important thing is we go to the next round,” he added.
“We have only two days to recover from today to Vietnam. We have no information about Vietnam to be honest but we have to be ready for that game before Iran. I will think about Iran after that.
“Tactically they (Saudi) played very well. There distribution is very good and I think that’s because of the previous Dutch manager (Bert van Marwijk) and now the Argentinian manager (current boss Juan Antonio Pizzi).
“They prefer to have possession of the game but I think the gap between the Asian nations is getting closer every year.”