Having already lost to Sweden and Mexico in Group F, the Taeguk Warriors went into the game with only slight hope of advancing to the knockout rounds, but they delivered a performance full of vigour, discipline and passion to round off their tournament on a high.
With Sweden three up against Mexico, Shin Tae-yong’s team were all but out when Kim opened the scoring in stoppage time. Four minutes later, Son ran half the length of the pitch to roll into an empty net and spark joyous celebrations to cap a game that will live long in the memory.
Before Wednesday, it’s fair to say that Korea Republic had somewhat underwhelmed in what was, admittedly, a particularly tough group. But, initially considered the third-choice goalkeeper, Cho Hyun-woo was thrust into the starting line-up and he has been nothing short of outstanding throughout.
Once more, the 26-year-old remained an assured presence at the back, showing impressive decision making on whether to catch or punch. His standout moment, and one which Germany will look back on to rue, was a stunning reflex save to deny Leon Goretzka early in the second half.
Cho made six saves against the holders – only two ‘keepers have made more in a single match to date. In three games, he has made more catches (6) than any other goalkeeper, while only Mexico's Ochoa Guillermo has made more than his 12 saves. Having conceded just once from open play, the Daegu FC player departs Russia with a thoroughly deserved clean sheet.
In front of Cho, Kim was a rock in the heart of the defence, denying Germany scoring opportunities time and again as they pushed for the goal that would have put them in a strong position to advance.
As shown in the graphic below, most of Kim’s good work came inside his own penalty area, where he made five clearances, three blocks, one tackle and one interception in a busy afternoon’s work alongside a backline that all performed at their peak.
The Guangzhou Evergrande centre-back coped admirably with the threat of Germany’s most advanced forward, Timo Werner, as well as Goretzka, both of whom remained largely ineffective. His goal in added time was the perfect way to round off a fine commanding display.
The right move
With Shin opting for a 4-4-2 formation for the first time at the World Cup, Lee Jae-sung was moved out to the right side of midfield, and the Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors player delivered his best performance of the tournament, working well with the right-back and club teammate Lee Yong and Son.
As Germany grew increasingly desperate, the Koreans were afforded plenty opportunity to counter-attack, with space aplenty on the right side. Lee Jae-sung transitioned the play from defence to attack superbly, combining well with Lee Yong behind him and Son up in front.
Indeed, the midfielder picked out the pacey Son in advanced positions (shown above) throughout the game in what was the most effective combination on the Taeguk Warriors team. The 27 successful passes he made, meanwhile, was more than anyone on his side and no Korean player created more than the two chances he laid off for his teammates.
Results elsewhere meant the performance was not enough to secure an unlikely progression to the knockout rounds, but Korea Republic return home with heads held high after a display that will boost confidence ahead of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019.
Photo: Getty Images