For the second consecutive game, South Korea was wavering on the cusp of defeat and crashing out of the competition after Cho Gue-sung’s 99th-minute equalizer dragged the Taegeuk Warriors to extra-time against Saudi Arabia in the last 16, where they eventually won on penalties.
And against Australia, South Korea was trailing 1-0 almost four minutes into stoppage time. But Tottenham star Son was brought down in the box as he shimmied through the Australian defense and Hwang Hee-chan converted from the spot to draw level and take it to extra-time.
Then, in extra-time, Son unleashed a glorious, curling free kick that swept past the wall of Australian defenders, past the diving outstretched hand of goalkeeper Matty Ryan and into the back of the net.
“The most important thing is we get the result,” Son said afterwards, per the Asian Cup website. “Whatever name you want to put on it is not important. The thing I can say with assurance is that this is only making us stay together even stronger.
“Playing 120 minutes, it’s difficult. It’s not easy, but the spirit the boys are showing is making us stick together and I can say with confidence that our strength is that we’re one team.”
After absorbing early pressure from South Korea for much of the opening 20 minutes, Australia launched its own attack after Craig Goodwin won possession and danced through the South Korean defense, but his shot was parried back by goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo, and Connor Metcalfe skewed the rebound wide.
Goodwin got onto the scoreboard first just before half-time, however, volleying a powerful strike into the net after Nathaniel Atkinson had broken clear on the wing and chipped back across the box.
The Socceroos later rued the several chances they had to double their lead after the break with only sharp goalkeeping from Jo, as well as some wayward shots, keeping the ball out the net.
“We were up 1-0 and we had chances to make it 2-0 or 3-0,” manager Graham Arnold said afterwards, per the tournament’s website as he reflected on the “devastating” loss. “When you don’t take those chances, you get punished.”
And Australia’s slender lead crumbled in the 95th minute following Hwang’s penalty before it was left facing defeat after Son’s unstoppable free kick in the 103rd minute, and midfielder Aidan O’Neill was red carded for a dangerous challenge two minutes later.
“It was another drama,” said South Korea manager Jürgen Klinsmann, according to the Asian Cup wesbite. “We are extremely happy. We are thrilled to go through.
“I’m proud of this team, I’m proud of the spirit that they have. I wish sometimes we start 1-0 down so that we can play that way from the start, running after the ball.”
His team will now face Jordan on Tuesday for a place in the Asian Cup final as it seeks to win the tournament for the first time since 1960.