DOHA: Saudi Arabia’s Asian Cup campaign came to end in heartbreaking fashion on Tuesday with a penalty shootout defeat at the hands of South Korea. After 120 minutes of intense football ended 1-1, the Taeguk Warriors triumphed 4-2.
It was a night of what could have been and it was a game that came to the boil at the start and the end of the second half. It looked as if Abdullah Radif had come off the bench to win the game just 34 seconds after being introduced at the break and then, fellow substitute Cho Gue-song equalised after 99 minutes. The game went all the way to the shootout and while Sami Al-Najei and Abdulrahman Ghareeb saw their kicks saved by Jo Hyun-woo, Korea scored all of theirs.
The victors go on to face Australia in Friday’s quarter-final but this game will take some recovering from though it started quietly. For a long time, the fans had to make their own entertainment as this was an extremely tight opening period with both teams feeling each other out. Saudi Arabia had the possession but could not find a way through and apart from a wild and high shot from Abdullah Al-Khaibari after 13 minutes –that barely qualified as an attempt on goal -there was little action of note in the first half of the first half.
Then five minutes before the break, the whole Education City Stadium was trying to work out how Saudi Arabia were not ahead. It all started from a corner that was swung into the six yard box that caused chaos. The first header was from Al-Shehri at the near post that came off the bar, then Ali Lajami did the same and then Salem Al-Dawsari produced a third header only to watch Kim Min-jae divert it wide.
It didn’t matter just moments after the break as Radif, who had just replaced Al-Shehri, broke the deadlock. Mohammed Al-Breik’s ball from deep was touched on beautifully by Al-Dawsari and Radif coolly slotted the ball past Jo Hyun-woo.
Saudi Arabia, now full of confidence, continued to have the upper hand as Korea created little. On the hour, Khaibari’s shot through a crowded area went straight into the arms of the goalkeeper. Midway through the second half, Radif shot from a similar position and this time, it went just wide of Jo’s right hand and the post.
The 20 year-old was so busy and it needed a sliding tackle from the Korean goalkeeper to deny him a second goal with 11 minutes remaining. It was always going to be the case that the East Asian team would pile on the pressure and that happened big time in the frantic final period.
Al-Kassar showed his worth to keep out what was by far Korea’s best chance, getting down well to save a shot from Hwang In-beom, then he kept out a header from Seol Young-woo. In between there were last-ditch blocks from Lajami. In injury-time, Cho headed against the bar from close range and then 90 seconds from the end, his header eventually found the target as Saudi Arabia paid the price for sitting too deep.
There was only one team going to win in extra-time and it was not the men in green. An energised Korea pushed forward in search of what would surely have been the winner while Saudi Arabia seemed to look to a shootout. They had Al-Kassar’s heroics to thank for getting as far as they did and in the last seconds, Radif forced a fine save from Jo.
That was the last action before the shootout. Mohamed Kanno scored the first, Saud Abdulhamid the second but Al-Najei saw his saved by Jo as did Ghareeb. By the time Hwang Hee-chan scored the winning kick, Mancini had already left the pitchside and now, so have Saudi Arabia.