Sorrow for Suarez, ecstasy for Son as South Korea threads the needle & qualifies for knockouts

Cheers, Son's crying.

Sulaiman Daud | December 03, 2022, 01:09 PM

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By the end of the night, two men were in floods of tears on two different football pitches in Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup.

Thousands of kilometres away, two nations wept along with them. One in joy, the other in sorrow.

Son Heung Min's rollercoaster ride

Son, the sublime striker from Spurs, is already a national hero.

He had already helped the U-23 team to international football success in the 2018 Asian Games, earning an exemption from military service for the whole squad.

With major tournament success eluding him at club level, the World Cup offered a "final" shot at glory. While players are enjoying extended careers these days thanks to improvements in sports science, Son is already 30 and nearing the latter stage of his prime.

However a major injury just before the tournament, a fractured eye socket, threatened to scupper his chances.

Son battled through the pain and made it to the final squad travelling to Doha.

South Korea's first match was a drab 0-0 draw with Uruguay, and little did anyone watching would know of the drama that was to ensue.

Their next match was against Ghana. The African team raced to a 2-0 lead, before Cho Gue Sung struck twice in quick succession to bring the scores level. Korea might have settled for a point, before Mohammed Kudus scored a third goal to give Ghana all three points.

The result left Korea bottom of Group H, with just one point and teetering on the brink of elimination.

Threading the needle

Going into the final group stage match, Korea still had a path to survival, albeit an unlikely one. They needed to beat Portugal, arguably the strongest team in the group, and hope that the result of the Uruguay-Ghana match played out in their favour.

Their hopes seemed dashed when Portugal scored early, but Korea managed an equaliser.

Things were looking up, and even more so when Uruguay scored two against Ghana. This all played into Korea's favour, as they had scored more goals than Uruguay. All they needed now was one more to beat Portugal and record more points than Ghana.

But the goal would not come.

Portugal, with superstar Cristiano Ronaldo in its ranks, batted away all attempts on goal. The Korean fans in the stadium never stopped singing and chanting however, urging their team on with cries of "Daehan Minguk!" (Korea Republic)

Son, wearing a black mask to protect his face from injury, had a frustrating tournament so far with no goals. But as the match went into extra time, Son latched onto a loose ball.

With three Portuguese defenders surrounding him, Son slowed down the play for a moment -- then slipped the ball through to his teammate Hwang Hee Chan, who also plays in the English Premier League, for Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Hwang did not miss.

But it was not yet time for celebration. The other match had not yet ended, and it was also on a knife-edge.

Uruguay were winning 2-0, sending Ghana to the bottom spot. But Hwang's goal meant that they had scored fewer goals than Korea, and therefore, were not going through. That could all change if Uruguay could get just one more goal.

Korean fans, who started the evening cheering on Uruguay to beat Ghana, were now hoping against hope that Ghana could survive.

Luis Suarez's old sin

For all the drama in the Korea-Portugal match, the Uruguay-Ghana match was another high-tension affair, largely due to one man, Uruguay's Luis Suarez.

Back in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Uruguay played Ghana in the quarter final. If Ghana won, they would be the first African nation to make it to the semi final, in the first World Cup hosted in an African country.

But in injury time, Suarez deflected a goal bound shot with his hand.

While Suarez was sent off and Ghana awarded a penalty, they failed to score, and were eventually eliminated.

Diego Maradona's legendary Hand of God goal had an infernal counterpart -- Suarez's Hand of the Devil.

When Uruguay and Ghana were placed in the same group, pundits speculated about Ghana's chance to avenge their loss of 2010.

Suarez further fuelled the fire before the match by saying he would not apologise for the handball, as it was the Ghanaian player who missed the penalty.

He was in fine form during the 2022 match, as Uruguay raced to a 2-0 lead. But when the news filtered through of Korea's victory, Uruguay realised two goals would not be enough.

In the dying minutes, they had two penalty calls turned down, after Darwin Nunez and Edinson Cavani both went down in the box. But the referee said no, twice.

As the final whistle blew, and both Ghana and Uruguay went out, the Uruguayans surrounded the referee, remonstrating angrily.

Suarez, meanwhile, was on the bench. Crying.

Over at the other stadium, Son Heung Min collapsed to the ground in relief.

Despite all the challenges so far, South Korea would live to see another day in the World Cup.

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Top image from Getty and Twitter.