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Friday, 02 December 2022 20:14

Relentless Son drives South Korea into knockout stages.

Staff Reporter.

(Reuters) - South Korea talisman Son Heung-min is still without a goal at this World Cup but he ran himself into the ground on Friday to ensure his team reached the last 16 in dramatic fashion.

The Asian side simply refused to accept that their World Cup dream was over and it was captain Son who epitomised the Koreans' relentless energy with a selfless display.

A day after Japan set the tone by stunning Spain 2-1 in their final game to reach the knockout phase on a night of mind-boggling drama, Son made sure South Korea's fans could kick-start their own party in the Education City Stadium.

The 30-year-old Tottenham Hotspur forward, who has scored a record 35 goals for his country and is the darling of their fans, who wear his shirt with such pride, has played the whole tournament wearing a black mask to protect a cheek fracture.

With the match locked at 1-1 and the clock ticking into the first minute of stoppage time, it seemed Son's and South Korea's World Cup was about to end in heartbreak with the win they needed to advance about to elude them.

But as he often does for his club, for whom he shared the Premier League Golden Boot last year with Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, he produced something special when it mattered most.

From a Portugal corner, the ball was cleared and suddenly captain Son found himself in acres of space on the lush turf.

Turning on the afterburners he bore down on goal and then, when it appeared the defence had closed him down, Son had the presence of mind to thread a perfect pass to substitute Hwang Hee-chan who calmly slotted his shot past Diogo Costa.

That saw South Korea jump from bottom of the group to second, above Uruguay who beat Ghana 2-0 but were left in third place by virtue of scoring fewer goals than South Korea.

The Koreans, who had fallen behind early on to Ricardo Horta's opener but levelled through Kim Young-gwon, looked out on their feet at times in the second half.

But Son led by example, summoning the spirit of 2002 when South Korea reached the semi-finals on home soil, having also beaten Portugal to get out of the group.

At times the celebrated forward appeared to be trying almost too hard as he desperately tried to find a way through a Portuguese defence that was in no mood for charity.

As South Korea hunted the goal that would take them through to a potential knockout clash with Brazil, Son looked poised to score with one chance on the right but his shot was brilliantly blocked by Antonio Silva.

However, Son was not to be denied a key role in the winner and once again showed why he has been Asian Footballer of the Year seven times as his unbreakable spirit put South Korea into the knockout rounds for only the third time in 11 appearances.