KWANGJU, South Korea — South Korea’s World Cup dream continues in incredible fashion.
After grinding out a 0-0 draw with Spain here on Saturday, surviving 30 minutes of extra time and holding their collective nerve, the South Koreans scored every one of their spot-kicks and goalkeeper Lee Woon Jae saved Joaquin’s effort, as the Koreans won the penalty shootout 5-3.
South Korea — 150 to 1 outsiders before the tournament got under way — now travel to Seoul for Tuesday’s semifinal against Germany. And players and fans alike are still pinching themselves to see if it is real.
The same apparently goes for South Korean coach Guus Hiddink. “I can’t describe how I’m feeling,” he said. “I’m so happy for the boys, who fought to the end. I think more dreams have come true now. I’m so proud of these boys.
“Spain have experienced players and there were times when they had superiority, in the first half and again in the second half, but it was the same for us as we had some changes. It was a 50-50 game,” he said.
The Spanish coach, Jose Antonio Camacho, was dignified in defeat. “It was a difficult game and it is too bad that we lost,” he said. “We worked hard, we fought our best but the other team had more luck, Congratulations to the Korean team and for their victory.”
When asked about Spain’s failure to progress to the semifinal, Camacho replied, “It hurts.”
Spanish striker Raul — scorer of three goals in the tournament — was left off the starting lineup after failing to shake off a training ground injury and Camacho opted to play a five-man midfield supporting Fernando Morientes, the lone forward.
For its part, South Korea started the match like it has started every game in this tournament, by taking the fight to the opposition.
For the first quarter of an hour, the Spanish had to fend off a wave of Korean attacks and found themselves chasing possession in midfield.
Ahn Jung Hwan was the fulcrum for most of the activity, his runs causing consternation in Spain’s defense.
In the 10th minute he latched onto a through ball into the penalty area before being halted by the towering presence of Fernando Hierro.
However, as the game wore on — and the extra two days’ rest for the Spanish players began to tell — the home side began to fall off the pace.
Baraja’s overhead kick was well wide of the Korean goal in the 17th minute and shortly afterward Lee had to be quick to fist away a free-kick from wide on the right by De Pedro before it reached a clutch of Spanish attackers.
Lee was again called into action in the 26th minute, saving smartly at his post from a free-kick that Morientes had got a head to.
Hiddink was forced to shuffle his pack before the break, replacing Kim Nam Il, who had failed to run off an ankle injury from an earlier mid-field clash, with Lee Eul Yong. The change did little to improve Korea’s penetration and Spain were looking increasingly dangerous in the final third of the field.
With just a minute to go before halftime, Joaquin went on a mazy run that took him a third of the length of the field and past four South Korea players before a timely interception stopped him. The follow up shot from De Pedro went narrowly wide of Lee’s post.
The pressure didn’t let up after the break, either. A ball bundled into the back of the South Korean net by a combination of Kim Tae Young and Morientes from a free-kick wide on the right was ruled out by the Egyptian referee and Morientes — again — should have done better than skying a ball cut back from the byline by Joaquin on 49 minutes.
The Koreans refused to go quietly, however, and in the 66th minute a corner on the right produced their best opportunity to date, Park Ji Sung’s rocketed shot was heading inside Iker Casillas’ near post until the Spanish keeper stuck out a hand to divert it away.
Hiddink was becoming more animated on the touchline as the half wore on, throwing his jacket to the floor in disgust at one decision, until referee Ghandour Gamal suggested that he might like to curb his criticisms.
The remainder of the half was a tactical stalemate, each side canceling out the other, with very few scoring opportunities, Joaquin shooting wide in the 71st minute and then a snap shot by substitute Lee Chun Soo was well saved by Iker Casillas.
Sudden-death extra time continued in much the same vein until a quickly taken throw in on the right wing was met sharply by Morientes, whose looped shot beat Lee in the Korean goal but came back off his upright. Following up, Gaizka Mendieta was only able to shoot over Lee’s bar.
In the second period, Hwang Sun Hong found himself in a good position to meet a cross from Lee Chun Soo, but drove his volley into the turf before it was deflected away by a Spanish defender. A flurry of Spanish corners came to nothing and then it was down to the dreaded penalty shoot out.
The two sides matched each other with the first three penalties before Ahn’s spot kick put the Koreans ahead.
Diving to his left, Lee then palmed away Joaquin’s penalty to leave captain Hong Myung Bo the unenviable task of taking the 12-yard kick that would seal his country’s fate.
The veteran defender was not found wanting, driving the ball past Iker Casillas and provoking the latest scenes of jubilation across the country. If South Korea had been underestimated going into this tournament, Germany would be foolish to write them off now.
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