Substitute midfielder Yoon Bit-garam drilled a left-foot shot from the edge of the penalty box in extra time Saturday to send South Korea into the semifinals of the Asian Cup with a 1-0 victory over perennial rival Iran.
Yoon found the into the lower right corner of the net during injury time of the first added period after South Korea had largely dominated Saturday’s match. His team will now play Japan in Tuesday’s semifinals.
“It’s a crucial match, Japan has been improving throughout the tournament in every aspect of the game,” South Korea coach Cho Kwang-rae said.
South Korea and Iran have met five consecutive times in Asian Cup quarterfinals, with South Korea winning three of those matches. Four years ago, it beat Iran on penalties.
After winning the first two editions of the continental tournament, South Korea was runner-up three times and finished third another three times, but has not won the title since 1960.
“The cooperation and the willingness of my players to sacrifice for each other were the key factors of our victory,” Cho said. “Iran has been beyond the level of Asian football, they are close to European level. The main reason we won the match is that we controlled the midfield and didn’t let them play their game.”
Iran, a three-time champion with no title since 1976, played a patient game and did not start threatening until about an hour into the match, while South Korea tried to attack from the start.
In the second period of extra time, Iran tried desperately to find space but South Korea crowded its defense and hung on to win.
“In the first half we didn’t play the football we like to play. Maybe that had something to do with the quality of Korea and maybe the stress our players had before the match,” said Iran’s outgoing coach Afshin Ghotbi, whose team was the only one to win all three group games.
“The Koreans did very well closing the midfield and not giving space,” he said. “But I thought we came back in the second half. Unfortunately we conceded a goal at the wrong moment. It was a fantastic finish. In the second 15 minutes I thought our players gave their all and we created enough chances but unfortunately because of the emotions involved, maybe the precision around the goal wasn’t there.”
South Korea had more possession and outshot Iran 6-1, but neither team had a shot on target in the first half.
“Iran was very well organized in the defense,” Cho said.
The pattern didn’t change after the break and captain Park Ji-sung tied several Iran defenders but again could not get off a shot or send a pass.
South Korea finally found the target when Ji Dong-won rose to meet a high cross from Du Ri-cha, but goalkeeper Mahdi Rahmati caught the ball without problems.
Iran began getting into the match more after an hour and a huge melee in front of the South Korean goal produced no score as Mohammad Reza Khalatbari was thwarted several times.
Iran defender Ehsan Haji Safi nearly broke the deadlock in the 71st, but drove his shot just wide. Then another defender, Hadi Aghili, connected with a header that also went wide.
Javad Nekonam’s free kick from 18 meters (yards) sailed wide as Iran began to threaten late in the match.
Haji Safi made a sliding tackle to deny Park a shot early in extra time.
Masoud Shoajei lifted a shot from 18 meters (yards) out with six minutes remaining in extra time but hit the top of the net.