Penalty shootout heartbreak for Saudi Arabia as they lose to South Korea in Asian Cup

Roberto Mancini's side so close to victory before late equaliser took last-16 clash into extra time

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Saudi Arabia were less than a minute from a result for the ages, but South Korea's substitutes combined and instead an engrossing Asian Cup victory was theirs.

In the end, it was Son Heung-min and Co that kept their tournament dream alive, the two-time champions coming through a titanic last-16 clash at Education City Stadium on penalties on Monday to book a place in the quarter-finals in Qatar.

Maybe that 64-year wait for trophy No 3 will meet its end in less than two weeks’ time. Australia, the 2015 winners, form the next obstacle to overcome for Jurgen Klinsmann’s crew, on Friday. For Roberto Mancini’s men, they depart Doha no doubt bogged down by what might have been.

They were so close. Ninety-nine minutes had elapsed in Al Rayyan when Seol Young-woo met a deep cross, directed his header back across goal, and Cho Gue-sung nodded home.

Saudi, 1-0 up in an instant at the start of the second half through Abdullah Radif, had been pegged back at the death.

Their exit was soon confirmed. Jo Hyeon-woo saved in the shootout from Sami Al Najei and Adbulrahman Ghareeb, and Wolves forward Hwang Hee-chan sealed it.

It was hard on not only on the Saudi players, but also their support, especially the large section camped behind their goal in the first half, who had made their presence felt from the off. Having roared through the announcement of their line-up pre-match, they roundly booed Son’s name. It figured; the South Korea captain is comfortably Asia’s foremost footballer.

Once the action began, every passage of South Korean possession played out to a tune of 42,000-plus whistles. If the early exchanges were cagey to say the least, the magnitude of the occasion, and what was on offer, perhaps pinched at the players.

The first time the contest did open up, Son raced away from the Saudi defence but, as he checked to cut inside from a trademark curled shot, Hassan Tambakti thwarted him. Given the reaction it elicited from the defender’s compatriots in the stands, you would have thought Saudi Arabia had gone 1-0 up.

If that was the only real moment to set pulses racing, after a pretty placid opening 25 minutes, the match burst into life. First, Son was played in over the top by full-back Kim Tae-hwan and, having controlled well and then converged on the Saudi goal, he shot through Tambakti’s legs but straight at goalkeeper Ahmed Al Kassar.

At the other end, Salem Al Dawsari burst suddenly to life, the current Asian Player of the Year slaloming past an opponent before releasing Saleh Al Shehri. The Al Hilal striker, preferred by Mancini despite his lack of game-time for his club, dragged wide from the edge of the penalty area.

On 40 minutes, Saudi twice shuddered twice the South Korea crossbar. Al Shehri thumped a header from a corner off the woodwork Ali Lajami powered the rebound off the crossbar, and Al Dawsari nodded a third effort inches wide. The Saudi support erupted in unison.

They wouldn’t have long into the second half to wait for another opportunity. One minute after the break, Al Dawsari flicked the ball, probably inadvertently, through to Radif, who took one touch, steadied himself, and swept his shot past Jo. Radif took off towards those packed in behind the advertising hoardings, his teammates trying to keep pace.

Introduced at half-time in place of Al Shehri, the goal represented his initial two touches. Talk about instant impact.

Tails up, Saudi sought to turn the screw. Mohammed Kanno, willed on by the majority of Education City, fired a couple of shots from range well off target.

Abdullah Al Khaibari fizzed one at Jun, although it was comfortable for the Korean; Radif pulled a low drive across goal; Al Dawsari, relatively quiet bar that first-half jolt, seemed to have extra intent in his step.

Even Lajami, who blocked South Korea’s advances, threw himself into challenges, or glanced clear crosses. The Al Nassr defender embodied Saudi’s never-say-die attitude.

Apparently caught up in the emotion of it all, Mancini was called from his dugout and booked.

With five minutes remaining, Al Kassar deflected away Hwang In-beom’s goal-bound shot with an outstretched leg, Tambakti blocked twice almost on his line, and Al Kassar repelled a pair of far-post headers.

In the third minute of 10 allocated for injury-time, Cho headed on to the Saudi crossbar. Hwang screwed wide when played in.

Surely Saudi could not hold on to their lead? They could not. Seol found Cho and South Korea were level. Their bench raced from the dugout, leaving Klinsmann to punch the air repeatedly in delight. It was some reprieve for the under-fire German.

In the first period of extra-time, Kim Min-jae tested Al Kassar from a corner; in the second, Hong Hyun-seok, Cho and Son somehow contrived to spurn a golden chance. Then Al Kassar denied Lee Kang-in at full stretch.

And then to penalties. Jo pushed away the two spot-kicks, leaving Hwang to apply the final flourish. At one point seemingly done and dusted, South Korea’s Asian Cup dream sustains until Friday – and maybe even further.

Updated: January 30, 2024, 7:42 PM