Abu Dhabi (AFP) – Title-chasing South Korea dodged a bullet to reach the Asian Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday, while Qatar toppled Iraq 1-0 in a full-blooded Gulf clash.
The Koreans were taken to extra time by tiny Bahrain in Dubai where a thumping header from substitute Kim Jin-su earned them a 2-1 win and dragged the tournament co-favourites through to face Qatar — the team local fans love to hate.
“It was a tough game,” said South Korea captain Son Heung-min after the Taeguk Warriors reached the quarter-finals for the seventh straight time.
“It’s all about attitude as well, and I’m a bit unhappy with our performance — I think we’re better than that.”
South Korea’s quest to end 59 years of Asian Cup hurt looked to be safely on track when Hwang Hee-chan pounced on a loose ball to lash home two minutes before half-time.
Mohamed Al Romaihi equalised with a poacher’s strike 13 minutes from time to send a shiver through a Korean side under enormous pressure to improve on their runners-up finish in 2015.
But normal service was resumed in extra time when right-back Lee Yong’s pinpoint cross invited Kim to come steaming in at the back post to score with an unstoppable header.
Korean talisman Son and Ji Dong-won lifted up Ki Sung-yueng’s shirt in tribute to their team mate, whose Asian Cup was ended by a hamstring injury sustained during the group stage.
“We made a lot of simple mistakes,” admitted South Korea coach Paulo Bento.
“When we lose the ball easily without any pressure from the opponent, of course the game becomes harder.”
Meanwhile, Bahrain coach Miroslav Soukup praised his team of part-timers, who reached the knockout stage for only the second time.
– Torrent of abuse –
“Eighty percent of my team are amateurs,” said the Czech. “They go to work in the morning and in the afternoon they’re training. They’ve done a great job.”
Qatar were once again subjected to a torrent of abuse from fans over the long-running Gulf blockade of the oil-rich country.
But Bassam Alrawi — whose father Hisham played for Iraq in the 1990s — silenced the haters on 62 minutes when he curled in a free-kick to take the Qataris into the last eight for a third time.
It was Qatar’s fourth win in four at this tournament after topping their group and the least they deserved from a politically charged contest brimming with passion, if low on genuine quality.
Iraq, shock Asian Cup winners in 2007 and semi-finalists four years ago, carried little threat until Atalanta’s Ali Adnan fizzed a free-kick just wide 12 minutes from time.
“We were patient, we had to adapt,” said Qatar coach Felix Sanchez Bas.
“Once you reach this stage you want to win the tournament — and our players have shown they are capable.”
Sudan-born forward Almoez Ali, who needs one more goal to equal Ali Daei’s record of eight in a single Asian Cup, had a quiet night for Qatar, but kept his powder dry for Friday’s quarter-final.
At the final whistle, Iraq’s vanquished players slumped to the turf, several sobbing uncontrollably as jeers rang out from the crowd.
“What we miss is in the last third, we don’t have a player who can play that last pass,” shrugged Iraq coach Srecko Katanec.
“We were too hurried, trying to do everything too fast. The players need to grow up and be more calm.”
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