Sports
S. Korea one win away from history in Qatar
Published : Dec 3, 2022 - 12:02
Updated : Dec 3, 2022 - 12:02

South Korea's team players celebrate after the World Cup group H soccer match between South Korea and Portugal, at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Friday. (AP)

South Korea are playing in their 10th consecutive FIFA World Cup in Qatar, and it's a record streak for a country without the ultimate championship trophy in football.

It will be a tough task for South Korea to lift the trophy this year, but they are now just a win away from a small piece of their national football history.

If South Korea beat world No. 1 Brazil in the round of 16 on Monday, they will reach the quarterfinals for the first time at an away World Cup.

This is South Korea's 11th World Cup overall, but they have been to the knockouts only twice.

As co-hosts of the tournament with Japan in 2002, South Korea marched into the semifinals under the Dutch coach Guus Hiddink.

They defeated Portugal in the final group match to reach the round of 16, just as they did so on Friday in Qatar. South Korea then slashed two European football giants, Italy and Spain, to set up a semifinals date with Germany.

The magical run stopped there as South Korea lost 1-0. They then fell to Turkey 3-2 in the third-place match.

The 2002 tournament featured other historic moments, too. South Korea enjoyed their first World Cup victory by defeating Poland 2-0 to start the group stage. They suffered two losses in their very first World Cup in 1954. In four tournaments from 1986 to 1998, South Korea had four draws and eight losses.

South Korea opened the 2006 tournament in Germany with a 2-1 victory over Togo, their first win at an away World Cup. A 1-1 draw with France put South Korea in a good spot to reach the knockouts for the second straight tournament, but a 2-0 loss to Switzerland sealed their fate.

Four years later in 2010, South Korea progressed to the round of 16 for the first time away from home. They beat Greece 2-0 but lost to Argentina 4-1. A 2-2 draw with Nigeria was enough to lift South Korea to the round of 16, where they fell to Uruguay 2-1.

That was followed by early exits in 2014 and in 2018.

South Korea did enjoy a memorable moment in 2018 in Russia, though, beating the defending champions Germany 2-0. South Korea still didn't advance to the knockouts but dragged Germany down with them.

Paulo Bento, current South Korea head coach, took the reins about two months after the 2018 World Cup. He is now the longest-serving head coach in South Korean national team history and he has instilled a sense of stability and structure in the team, the two qualities that went missing at two previous World Cups.

South Korea began the competition in Qatar with a goalless draw against Uruguay, an encouraging performance against a heavily favored opponent. South Korea then battled back from a 2-0 deficit against Ghana before losing 3-2. They still showed the kind of grit and determination that had been lacking in earlier iterations of the national team.

Then came a miraculous 2-1 victory over Portugal in Group H action on Friday. South Korea needed more than just their own victory and got the necessary help from the other Group H match between Uruguay and Ghana.

Uruguay won 2-0 to tie South Korea at four points. They both had a goal difference of zero, but South Korea finished ahead in the next tiebreaking category, goals scored, by 4-2.

Brazil will present a whole new level of challenge for South Korea, who have only beaten Selecao once, back in March 1999, while losing six other times in their seven meetings.

Most recently in June, Brazil pounded South Korea 5-1 in a friendly match in Seoul.

South Korea's journey toward more history begins at 10 p.m. Monday at Stadium 974 in Doha, or 4 a.m. Tuesday in Seoul.

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