Saudi Arabia dominated for much of the last 16 Asian Cup clash but it was South Korea who emerged victorious on penalties.
Education City Stadium, Qatar – It was a case of so near yet so far for thousands of Saudi Arabia fans, whose team faltered in the penalty shootout in their round-of-16 match against South Korea and were knocked out of the AFC Asian Cup 2023.
South Korea booked a quarterfinal date with Australia as their dogged display saw them win 4-2 on penalties after the match ended 1-1 following extra time at the Education City Stadium on Tuesday night.
Saudi Arabia dominated the game for much of normal time and enjoyed a 1-0 lead up until the dying moments of stoppage time but ultimately could not withstand the relentless South Korean attacks on their goal.
Cho Gue-Sung scored the equalising goal in the ninth minute of added time to the delight of the few hundred South Korean fans among the 42,000 spectators. He later slotted in his team’s third penalty to put them one kick away from a famous comeback win.
Hwang Hee-chan made no mistakes from the spot to spark wild celebrations in the Korean camp.
The atmosphere and support were always going to be partisan in favour of the Green Falcons, whose supporters crossed Qatar’s only land border to make their presence felt in the country and the stadium.
They sang and danced outside the venue before kickoff and occupied most of the seats inside it when the match was under way.
The first half ended goalless but Saudi Arabia showed they were going to take the game to South Korea.
There was hardly enough time for fans to settle back into their seats at the resumption of play when Abdullah Radif came off the bench to score for Saudi Arabia. If the Green Falcon’s army of fans were raucous before the goal, Radif brought the house down as he slotted past the South Korean goalkeeper.
Saudi Arabia maintained the tempo on and off the pitch for the next half hour but then began to run out of steam. South Korea’s substitutes took advantage and kept up the pressure on the Saudi Arabia goal.
The ball hardly left the Saudi Arabia half in the last 10 minutes but, backed by their fans’ noise and their goalkeeper’s heroics, the men in green somehow clung onto their slender lead well into stoppage time.
Every time a Korean player touched the ball, the boos were so loud they could probably be heard all the way back in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia fans, some of whom had already bought tickets for their team’s likely quarterfinal and semifinal, were not in the mood to return home yet.
But as soon as Cho’s strike hit the back of Saudi Arabia’s net, the supporters fell silent and sunk into their seats. It was as if they knew their best chance had fallen through their hands.
“Our team often dominates games but then let it all slip because they run out of steam towards the end,” Saudi Arabia fan Faisal Al Muatiri told Al Jazeera after the match.
“It is becoming an increasingly familiar sight for us and the new coach needs to do something about it,” he said referring to Roberto Mancini.
Both teams created chances in extra time and Saudi Arabia came very close to sealing the win with a dramatic goal in front of their supporters in the second half of extra time but it was not to be.
South Korean fans grew in confidence once the match went to penalties.
“Our team has the experience and confidence of making strong comebacks,” South Korea fan Darren Lim said after the win.
She then paused to wave and say “goodnight” to the heartbroken Saudi Arabia supporters making their way out.
The Green Flacons will rue their inability to hold onto their lead as they fly back home.
And the Taegeuk Warriors live to fight another day, on Friday against the Socceroos.