S. Korea to face Saudi in Asian Cup last 16 as Indonesia sneak in

By AFP   January 25, 2024 | 03:24 pm PT
Son Heung-min's South Korea will face Saudi Arabia in a heavyweight last-16 clash at the Asian Cup with Thailand, Jordan, Bahrain and Indonesia also all going through at the end of the group phase Thursday.

South Korea were unconvincing once more as they conceded a 105th-minute equaliser in a madcap 3-3 draw with minnows Malaysia, whose competition was already over going into the game.

Malaysia (L) play South Korea in their 3-3 draw at an Asian Cup Group E game on Jan. 25, 2024. Photo by FAM

Malaysia (L) play South Korea in their 3-3 draw at an Asian Cup Group E game on Jan. 25, 2024. Photo by FAM

Jurgen Klinsmann's side finished runners-up in Group E behind Bahrain, meaning they avoided pre-tournament favourites Japan in the next round in Qatar.

But the Koreans won only once and drew two of their group-phase matches, conceding six goals in the process, and will need to play a lot better when they face Roberto Mancini's Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.

"We did not want to avoid Japan, we wanted to go through in first place, that was our goal," said the German legend Klinsmann, who lifted the World Cup as a player.

"Saudi Arabia is our next one and it will be a battle," he added.

South Korea and Tottenham skipper Son thought he had won a topsy-turvy game with a 94th-minute penalty, only for Romel Morales to pounce in the 15th minute of injury time for a heroic Malaysian draw.

Son called the result "a big wake-up call" as South Korea chase their first Asian Cup crown in 64 years.

South Korea's talisman also spoke out to demand the players stop getting abuse from fans.

Without going into specifics, he said his team-mates had been subjected to "comments that I can't even repeat".

"Some of the boys are being criticised or getting comments that cross the line," he told reporters after the game.

"It really hurts as a team-mate to see the boys in pain."

A few Malaysian fans were in tears during the match as they dreamed of a famous upset, but even though that did not happen in the end, the team's coach said it had been "a taste of the top level in Asia".

"We learned the smell, taste, feel of the top level in Asia," said Kim Pan-gon, himself Korean.

Mancini warning

Bahrain surprisingly topped the group after defeating a weakened Jordan 1-0 thanks to a clinical first-half finish by Abdulla Yusuf Helal and they will face Japan.

Despite defeat Jordan went through as one of the best four third-placed finishers, as did Syria, Palestine and Indonesia.

"Now we need to rest and prepare to face Japan, which is a very strong team," said Bahrain coach Juan Antonio Pizzi.

"But I believe in the ability of my players and have confidence we will get a positive result."

Saudi Arabia, one of the most successful teams in the history of the Asian Cup with three titles, had already qualified out of Group F.

Roared on by hordes of their fans at Education City Stadium, one of the venues for the 2022 World Cup, they were held 0-0 by Thailand to top the group in a lively draw that clocked up four disallowed goals.

Looking ahead to the meeting with South Korea, Mancini said: "We know it will be a very difficult match -- not only for us, but also for them."

In the other Group F match, Oman drew 1-1 with Kyrgyzstan and finished third. Both sides were eliminated, allowing Indonesia to squeeze through without playing on the day.

It is their first time to reach the knockout phase in their history.

The last 16 begins on Sunday when Australia play Indonesia, followed later that day by the UAE versus tournament debutants Tajikistan.

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