South Korea’s players formed a circle in the center of the field and trained their eyes on a cell phone showing a nearby match that would decide their future at the World Cup.
The South Koreans had done their job, beating Portugal 2-1 on a stoppage-time goal.
Now came an agonizing wait. 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.
Some South Korea fans prayed. Others were crying, just like captain Son Heung-min in the players’ huddle.
They could soon celebrate.
South Korea advanced to the round of 16 on the tiebreaker of goals scored, pushing Uruguay into third place in a wild finish to Group H on Friday.
Both teams finished with four points and both had a goal difference of zero, but the Asian team scored four goals compared to Uruguay’s two.
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 and squirted water in the air.
Then they got in a line and sprinted toward their fans behind one of the goals at Education City Stadium before performing a dive in front of them.
South Korea was even at 1-1 and heading out of the tournament 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 converted a low finish past goalkeeper Diogo Costa.
Hwang 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 — who was sobbing with joy — and other teammates fell dramatically to the turf. South Korea coach Paulo Bento, who is Portuguese, waited patiently in the tunnel while the Uruguay-Ghana match played to a finish.
Portugal had already advanced after two games and won the group, assuring Cristiano Ronaldo of at least one more match in Qatar.
Ricardo Horta had given Portugal the lead in the fifth minute. South Korea equalized with a helping hand from Ronaldo after an outswinging corner struck his back as he turned away from the ball.
Kim Young-gwon then swept the loose ball into the net in the 27th minute to start a comeback that had a dramatic ending.