South Korea’s players celebrate their 2-1 win over Portugal in their final group-stage match Friday at the World Cup. Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

AL RAYYAN, Qatar — South Korea’s players formed a circle in the center of the field and trained their eyes on several cell phones showing a nearby match that would decide their future at the World Cup.

The South Koreans had just about done their job, beating Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portugal teammates 2-1 on a stoppage-time goal.

Now came an agonizing wait. To advance to the round of 16, they just needed Uruguay to not score a goal against Ghana in the other group match that still had at least six minutes to play.

Thousands of red-and-white-clad South Korea fans had whipped out their phones, too. Some prayed. Others were crying, just like captain Son Heung-min in the players’ huddle.

They soon were able to celebrate.

South Korea advanced on a goals scored tiebreaker, pushing Uruguay into third place and out of the tournament.


“It really feels like a miracle,” South Korea striker Cho Gue-sung said.

South Korea and Uruguay finished with four points and both had a goal difference of zero, but the Asian team scored four goals compared to Uruguay’s two.

“We never gave up,” Son said through tears. “Our players were trying to run an extra step more, sacrificing themselves, and that allowed us to achieve a good result.“

When the Uruguay-Ghana game finished 2-0 and South Korea was sure of its second-place finish, the players on the field erupted in joy, hugging each other and squirting water in the air.

South Korea was tied at 1-1 and on the verge of elimination when a Portugal corner got cleared and Son led a length-of-the-field breakaway in the first minute of added time. He got crowded out by Portugal’s retreating defenders but had the presence of mind to slip a pass through an opponent’s legs and into the path of Hwang Hee-chan, who placed a low finish past goalkeeper Diogo Costa.

Hwang, who came on as a substitute for his first match at this year’s World Cup, removed his jersey and flexed his muscles. Some of his teammates fell to the ground. But there were still five minutes more of stoppage time to play.


When the final whistle blew, Son and other teammates dropped dramatically to the turf, banging their fists. South Korea Coach Paulo Bento, who is Portuguese, waited patiently in the tunnel while the Uruguay-Ghana match played to a finish. He couldn’t be with his players because he was serving a suspension for a red card in South Korea’s last game.

Hwang didn’t play in South Korea’s first two games because of a left hamstring injury but entered as a 66th-minute substitute against Portugal. He said the coaching staff told him: “You’re going to create something.”

Portugal had already advanced after two games and won the group, assuring Ronaldo of at least one more match in Qatar as he seeks his first World Cup title in likely his final attempt.

URUGUAY 2, GHANA 0: Luis Suarez couldn’t watch as his Uruguay team slid toward a painful World Cup exit. He put his hands in front of his eyes, then pulled his shirt over his head. When his face emerged again, there were tears.

The Uruguay captain sat in the dugout after being substituted as his team beat Ghana but was still eliminated from the tournament by South Korea’s stoppage-time goal against Portugal.

When Suarez left in the 66th minute of the game, Uruguay was in a position to advance to the knockout stage for a fourth straight World Cup. He had played a key role in both Uruguay goals by Giorgian De Arrascaeta, which came after Ghana captain Andre Ayew missed a 21st-minute penalty.


By the time the final whistle blew, however, the 35-year-old Suarez’s World Cup career was over.

SWITZERLAND 3, SERBIA 2: Switzerland advanced to the last 16 for the third World Cup in a row, as Remo Freuler scored the winning goal just after halftime to secure second place in Group G.

Switzerland will next face Portugal on Tuesday.

Xherdan Shaqiri put Switzerland ahead early in the first half before Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahovic responded for Serbia. Breel Embolo evened the score just before halftime.

Switzerland went into the match needing a win to guarantee a place in the knockout round after beating Cameroon and losing to Brazil in its opening two games.

CAMEROON 1, BRAZIL 0: Vincent Aboubakar scored two minutes into stoppage time as Cameroon handed Brazil its first group-stage loss in 24 years.

Despite the victory, Cameroon was eliminated when Switzerland won the other group finale against Serbia. Brazil, which had already clinched a spot in the knockout stage, won the group with a better goal difference than Switzerland and will play South Korea in the round of 16.

Brazil, which played with its reserves, had won 17 straight group games since a 2-1 loss to Norway in 1998 in France. It had lost only one of its last 29 group matches.

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