Ghana defeated South Korea in an exhilarating match in front of a boisterous crowd at Qatar’s Education City Stadium.
The African nation took a 2-0 lead in the first half thanks to goals from Southampton defender Mohammed Salisu and Ajax’s Mohammed Kudus.
However, Ghana fans’ raucous celebrations at halftime were dampened by South Korea’s comeback after the break.
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Cho Gue-sung, the top scorer in his domestic league, leveled the game after 61 minutes with two stunning headers in three minutes.
But Kudus, who had deftly headed in Jordan Ayew’s cross in the first half, added a final twist when he thumped in a third for Ghana, breaking South Korea’s hearts.
Chances continued to fall South Korea’s way as they sought an equalizer, but Ghana held on despite 10 minutes of added time.
At the final whistle, many South Korean players fell to the ground, and manager Paulo Bento was sent off for arguing with English referee Anthony Taylor about not allowing a corner despite the fact that 10 minutes had passed.
“We had the opportunity to have a corner kick, but the referee denied us,” assistant coach Sergio Costa said afterwards.
“Paulo [Bento] reacted, I was close by, and he said nothing to the referee that was inappropriate.” It was a reaction from someone who felt there was a lack of fairness at the end of the game.
In contrast, ecstatic Ghana substitutes ran onto the pitch to celebrate, while fans in the stands blew whistles and danced.
With Portugal up next for South Korea, this feels like a significant defeat, whereas Ghana, despite losing to Portugal, will face Uruguay in good spirits in their final game.
From start to finish, the game was frenetic, with both teams enjoying spells of pressure but never gaining sustained control.
South Korea got off to a fast start, winning numerous corners and regularly getting Tottenham Hotspur star forward Son Heung-min on the ball.
He was involved in a battle down the left wing with young Brighton full-back Tariq Lamptey, but Ghana held firm and limited South Korea’s chances.
Then came Ghana’s two goals in 10 minutes, and as Bento’s team trudged off at halftime, a comeback appeared unlikely.
Salisu of Southampton pounced on a box scramble to score after 24 minutes, before Kudus flicked on Ayew’s cross and sprinted to the corner flag in delirious celebration.
Gue-sung, on the other hand, had South Korean fans on their feet – some even in tears – with two superb headers that brought the teams level and briefly silenced the dancing Ghana supporters.
South Korea had the momentum, but Kudus was clinical in scoring a third and decisive goal after teammate Inaki Williams had missed a cross from the left.
As South Korea poured forward in the final minutes, Ghana goalkeeper Lawrence Ati Zigi made several saves.
The scenes at full time demonstrated the significance of the result to both teams, the true significance of which will be felt after the Uruguay-Portugal game in Group H on Monday’s late kick-off.
“The second half was a complete departure. We had control, possession, and scoring chances, but the end result was completely unfair “Costa from South Korea also contributed.
“Even a tie would not have been appropriate. We had every right to win. I believe we can be very proud of what we accomplished and that you can count on us in the next match.”