The final Asian Cup match at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, South Korea and Uzbekistan drew 23,381 people for a quarter-final rematch of the third-fourth place match from the 2011 edition of the tournament.
The game started off with both sides defending nervously and Uzbekistan finding the first two chances, with Bakhodir Nasimov scuffing and angled shot straight at goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyeon and Odil Akhmedov’s cross narrowly missing the diving head of Lutfulla Turaev within the opening ten minutes.
Sanjaar Tursanov found himself in space after South Korea failed to clear their line in the 17th minute, but Kim Jin-hyeon was able to make himself big to prevent an open goal. Seconds later, Akhmedov found himself in front of the goal, but could only manage to volley over the crossbar.
Son Heung-min launched the promising striker Lee Jeong-hyeop with a ball behind the Uzbek defence, but the Sangju Sangmu striker rushed his opportunity at the edge of the box and sent the ball wide.
Son created a chance for himself in the 25th minute, making space for himself at the edge of the box and looping the ball towards the far post, but Ignatiy Nesterov was up to the challenge as the veteran tipped the ball over the bar.
Mirjalol Kasymov was forced to make an early substitution, taking off captain Odil Akhmedov, who left the pitch for treatment on his thigh, for Timur Kapadze at the half hour mark.
The remaining 15 minutes of the first half saw few threats and attempts from both sides at shooting from distance to little effect. An off-target overhead kick by Nasimov was one of the few moves that excited the impressive Melbourne crowd.
The second half started with Son nearly sending a free kick from out wide into the net, but Uzbekistan could count their lucky stars for the frantic reactions of Nesterov.
Nesterov was again tested when Lee Jeong-hyeop forced a diving save from the Lokomotiv Tashkent goalkeeper.
Kim Jin-su was almost left embarrassed moments later when Kim Jin-hyeon cleared into his leg, leaving the Koreans nervous as they watched the ball roll wide of their own net.
Nam Tae-hee earned White Wolves defender Vitaliy Denisov a yellow card for a late challenge. The Lekhwiya playmaker, who replaced Koo Ja-cheol in this game through a tournament-ending injury against Australia, imposed himself in the midfield with a number of runs past players.
Leee Keun-ho was given the perfect chance to score when the ball bounced through the Uzbek defence, but his half-volley hit the side netting as the Taeguk Warriors looked to grow into the later minutes of the game.
Sardor Rashidov wriggled past Lee Keun-ho to send a cross into the box for the completely unmarked Tureav, but the midfielder was somehow unable to keep his balance and sent his header wide from an open net.
Kim Sung-yueng was launched on a counter attack along the wing early in the remaining ten minutes of the match, but his centred ball was missed by the outstretched Nam Tae-hee, continuing the South Koreans’ trend in the tournament of being unable to capitalise on their best opportunities.
A slight scare for South Korea just before the end of regulation time, when Kim Jin-su collided with Igor Sergeev, also collecting the young Uzbek star’s arm with his face.
Regulation time ended with the two teams scoreless, with 62% possessions to the Koreans and more than double the number of successful passes, despite the feel of a end-to-end battle between the two for the whole 90 minutes.
The contest was largely won by South Korea’s pressure in the first half of extra time, though a break by Uzbekistan almost put the White Wolves in front when Rashidov received a long ball and attempted a shot from distance, but his shot was not struck well enough to test Kim Jin-hyeon.
The Koreans piled on the pressure in the remaining moments of the first half, finally pushing Uzbekistan to breaking point, when Kim Jin-su found Son in space to receive a low cross, with the Bayer Leverkusen star diving to head the ball. The scrambling Nesterov was unable to keep the ball out, leaving the large Korean contingent in the stands to roar in celebration.
The Taeguk Warriors went into the second half of extra time with a much-sought after lead and looked to control the flow of the match, keeping possession in the Uzbek half and not forcing their way through the defence. Their willingness to sit back was highlighted when Lee Keun-ho was substituted with a light injury for defender Jang Hyun-soo with ten minutes left in the game.
It almost proved costly as Uzbekistan came out with fast attacks each time they won the ball, breaking past a clearly tired Korean defence, while Ki Sung-yueng earned a yellow card for not promptly leaving the pitch through a fatigue-causing cramp.
The game was not yet over and the Uzbekistan technical area nearly rushed the pitch when a foul on the edge of the area was not given, before Korea launched a final attack
Cha Du-ri made an overlapping run, beating several players before squaring the ball to an unmarked Son Heung-min. Son was granted the time by a frantic White Wolves defence to adjust himself before sending the ball flying past Nesterov to secure their victory.
Cha Du-ri cleared the ball from the final Uzbekistan attack, which was enough for Al-Mirdasi to call the game over and see South Korea progress to the semi-finals, where they will travel to Sydney for Monday’s clash between the winner between Iran and Iraq tomorrow.