Dubai: Qatar stunned South Korea 1-0 at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Friday evening to book their place in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup semi-finals.
Under the tutelage of Portuguese coach Paulo Bento, the Koreans had the best of the first-half opportunities without finding a vital breakthrough.
An even opening period showed the mutual respect between the two teams, with a few probing runs failing to trouble either goalkeeper.
The smaller but faster South Koreans grew into the game as the half wore on and began stretching the Qatari defence with Ju Se-Jong and Hwang Ui-jo both going close to beating Saad Al Sheeb in the Qatar goal.
Abdul Aziz Hatem and Bassam Hisham both went into Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov’s book for cynical tackles, as Qatar were reduced to halting the tricky Koreans as they piled forward.
From the free-kick that saw Hisham booked, just before the half-time break, Korea captain and star player Son Heung-Min swung in a dangerous ball, but Hisham just managed to get it clear ahead of the incoming Kim Min-jae — who picked up a sore-looking head knock for his efforts.
The second half saw just as much drama, with South Korea’s Hwang Ui-jo getting past three defenders on 48 minutes only to see his shot saved by Al Sheeb on the line.
At the other end, Abdul Karim Salem was wasteful when he blasted a free-kick well wide form a decent position, before Akram Afif fired over the bar from close range on 55 minutes but the offside flag was already up.
Al Sheeb was playing a vital role for Qatar and had to be alert to punch away a wicked cross just as Lee Chung-yong was coming in at the back post.
Hwang was a constant menace on the left wing but still the Qatari defence refused to yield with little over 20 minutes left to play.
Tottenham star Son should have opened the scoring when he cut inside from the right, but opted to shoot with his left, allowing Al Sheeb to block.
Next up was Kim Jin-su, who whacked the outside of the post with a free-kick from the edge of the area, and the expression on his face said it all as the Koreans began to wonder where the breakthrough would come from.
It got a whole lot worse for Bento’s men after 78 minutes as, from nowhere, Hatem put Qatar ahead. He lined up an optimistic drive from 35 yards and connected perfectly to leave Kim Seung-Gyu in the South Korea goal helpless as the ball found the back of the net and spark wild celebrations in the Qatar dugout.
Korea were denied an equaliser just a minute later as the assistant referee signalled for offside with the ball in the net. Irmatov consulted VAR and Hwang was off by the narrowest of margins before slotting home.
Boualem Khoukhi attempted an acrobatic overhead kick to kill off the game as the clock neared 90 minutes, but this time Kim the Korean keeper was alert to avert the danger.
Korea had one final chance to force extra-time, but Hwang looked on in agony as his 93rd-minute effort went harmlessly past Al Sheeb’s upright and the Koreans are heading home.