Dubai (AFP) – Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min told his South Korea team-mates “we’re better than that” after they needed extra time to scrape past Bahrain’s part-timers 2-1 in the Asian Cup last 16 on Tuesday.
Kim Jin-su’s diving header at the end of the first extra period was all that separated South Korea’s well-paid professionals and a Bahrain squad who mostly have day-jobs.
Paulo Bento’s South Korea, runners-up in 2015 and one of the favourites for the title, survived to reach the last eight, where they will face Qatar.
“It was a tough game. We played against a team who packed the defence and played counter-attack, so it’s not easy,” said Son.
“It’s all about attitude as well, and I’m a bit unhappy with our performance. I think we’re better than that.”
Son took a boot to the head as he weathered some robust challenges in a first half which South Korea dominated with 73 percent of possession.
The Koreans took a while to settle before Son started to make his presence felt with some typically direct running which caused panic in the Bahrain defence.
South Korea broke the deadlock two minutes from half-time, when Son picked out Lee Yong whose cross was parried by goalkeeper Sayed Shubbar Alawi to Hwang Hee-chan, who snaffled the easy chance.
They threatened to run riot after the break before Bahrain hit back and it took a magnificent flying stop from Kim Seung-gyu to keep out Jamal Rashed’s thumping effort.
And against all expectations, Bahrain were suddenly level with 13 minutes remaining when Mohamed Al Romaihi smashed in the rebound from Mahdi Al-Humaidan’s shot.
– Ki Sung-yueng tribute –
The goal stunned South Korea, who had only conceded at one Asian Cup game since 2011 — the 2015 final, which they lost 2-1 to Australia after extra time.
Hwang Ui-jo nearly snatched the victory in injury time, when a defensive mix-up put him one-on-one with Alawi, but he spooned his shot wide to set up the additional 30 minutes of play.
Bahrain goalkeeper Alawi withdrew with an apparent hamstring injury but one of the first tasks for his replacement, Abdulkarim Fardan, was to pick the ball out of the net.
Substitute Kim Jin-su found time and space to steady himself and drive home his header from Lee Yong’s cross, a goal which the team celebrated by holding up the 16 shirt of injured Newcastle United midfielder Ki Sung-yueng.
Ju Se-jong also rammed a shot against the post in a positive finish for the Koreans, and while they celebrated there were tears from the Bahrainis at the final whistle.
Bahrain’s coach Miroslav Soukup was full of praise for his hard-working players, who reached the knockout stage for just the second time in their history.
“Eighty percent of my team are amateurs. They go to work in the morning and in the afternoon they’re training,” said the Czech.
“Then they fly to the Asian Cup and play against the top team, against players who play in the top leagues in the world.
“I want to say thank you very much to my team for the full tournament, because they’ve done a great job… this team has a good future.”
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