MELBOURNE – Son Heung-min scored twice in extra-time as two-time champions Korea Republic secured a third consecutive appearance in the semi-finals of the AFC Asian Cup after edging out Uzbekistan 2-0 in a thrilling quarter-final at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium on Thursday.
Bayer Leverkusen forward Son netted with just over a minute of the first half of extra-time remaining following an entertaining yet goalless 90 minutes of normal time, which was the first draw of the tournament, before repeating the feat at the end of the second period.
And having followed up their win over Uzbekistan in the third place play-off at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup with a fourth consecutive win of the 2015 campaign without conceding a goal, Uli Stielikeâ€™s Group A winners will face either Iran or Iraq in Mondayâ€™s semi-final at Stadium Australia in Sydney.
Group B runners-up Uzbekistan had made a positive start as lone striker Bakhodir Nasimov and Sanjar Tursunov tested Korea goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyeon inside the first 20 minutes before Odil Ahmedov volleyed over on the edge of the six-yard area from Vitaliy Denisovâ€™s left wing cross.
Korea, though, finally created their first chance of note midway through the first half as Ignatiy Nesterov produced a superb double block to deny Lee Keun-ho and Nam Tae-hee before the Uzbekistan goalkeeper was at full-stretch moments later to superbly produce a one-handed flying save to push Sonâ€™s curling effort from just inside the area over the crossbar.
But Uzbekistanâ€™s chances were dealt a huge blow 16 minutes before half-time as captain Ahmedov was forced off with an injury to be replaced by Timur Kapadze, and despite beginning the contest on the back foot, Korea fought back to finish the first half on top.
Nesterov remained the busier of the two goalkeepers at the start of the second half with another flying one-handed save to beat away Lee Jeong-hyeopâ€™s header from Ki Sung-yuengâ€™s 47th minute free-kick.
Both sides, though, enjoyed plenty of possession inside the final third during an open second 45 minutes with the goalkeepers at either end of the field having to remain on their toes as Lee Keun-ho fired into the side netting with just under 20 minutes remaining following a lapse in concentration by the Uzbekistan defence.
Korea then enjoyed their own stroke of luck with 12 minutes remaining as Lutfulla Turaev headed wide at the back post from Sardor Rashidovâ€™s chipped cross with the goal at his mercy and goalkeeper Kim struggling to recover.
Group A winners Korea were able to finish the end of normal time on top, but after Nam failed to connect with the goal at his mercy inside the final 10 minutes, the first draw of the tournament sent the tie to extra-time.
But with just over a minute of the first half of extra-time remaining, Nesterov was unable to hold Sonâ€™s stooping close range header from Kim Jin-suâ€™s deflected cross and the ball crept across the line to finally break the deadlock after Shukhrat Mukhammadiev had conceded possession close to the touchline.
And with just over a minute remaining at the end of the second half of extra-time Son repeated the feat as the forward fired high into the roof of the net from Cha Du-riâ€™s pass with Uzbekistan caught short at the back as they searched for an equaliser. – AFC