It was a thrilling final round of fixtures in which Korea Republic stunned Germany, the Islamic Republic of Iran came agonisingly close to beating Portugal and Saudi Arabia claimed three points against Egypt. The-AFC.com looks back at the standout facts and figures from a week that will live long in the memory.
The group stage of the FIFA World Cup saw Asian sides pick up a record 15 points, with four of the five teams earning a win from their three games in what was a record tally for the Asian Football Confederation.
That total is a point ahead of 2002, when Japan and Korea Republic gained seven points apiece, and 2010, when Korea Republic and Australia scored four and Japan six. By contrast, though, there were just four AFC representatives in those tournaments.
Cho Hyun-woo’s stunning performance against Germany made the world take note of the 26-year-old stopper, who went into the competition as Korea Republic’s third-choice goalkeeper and returned to East Asia as a star in his homeland.
The Daegu FC custodian made six saves, including a fabulous effort to deny Leon Goretzka, in the Taeguk Warriors’ 2-0 victory that ousted the holders. His tally was the highest of any Asian ‘keeper in the group stage and matched only by Egypt’s Essam El Hadary on Matchday Three.
Japan’s 1-0 defeat to Poland was enough to see the Samurai Blue edge into the last 16 by the narrowest of margins. It marks a record third appearance in knockout rounds for an Asian team after they also progressed from the group stage in 2002 and 2010.
Korea Republic come next on the list, with the Taeguk Warriors advancing in 2002 and 2010, while Saudi Arabia qualified for the last 16 in 1994. DPR Korea, meanwhile, appeared in the quarter-finals in 1966 before the introduction of the Round of 16.
Salman Al Faraj created a matchday high six chances for his teammates in Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 victory over Egypt that ensured Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side returned to Riyadh with heads held high after a disappointing start to the tournament.
The midfielder’s tally was the highest of any player of the Asian sides during the group stage, while his equaliser from the penalty spot was the Saudis’ first goal of the campaign and the catalyst for a strong second-half showing in Volgograd.
Take a bow
For the second successive matchday, Son Heung-min had more shots on goal than any player from the Asian Football Confederation, with the Korea Republic forward trying his luck five times in the game against Germany.
Son capped a stunning performance from the Taeguk Warriors by sprinting half the length of the pitch to slot into an empty net deep into stoppage time and complete a 2-0 victory with one of the most memorable goals of the tournament to eliminate the defending champions.
Tim Cahill’s substitute appearance in Australia’s 2-0 defeat to Peru saw the 38-year-old become the only player from the five Asian teams to have appeared at the past four World Cups in what will surely be his final act on the global stage.
The forward, who was unable to score for the fourth successive World Cup, has been joined in each of the squads by teammate Mark Milligan, although the Al Ahli defender did not get on the pitch in 2006 and 2010.
Never say die
Five goals were scored by Asian teams in the final round of group stage fixtures and, incredibly, all of them came in stoppage time as the continent’s elite played out dramatic finishes to their respective matches.
Al Faraj netted in first-half added time for the Saudis, before Salem Al Dawsari struck a 95th-minute winner. Karim Ansarifard gave Iran hope against Portugal with his 93rd-minute equaliser, while Kim Young-gwon and Son saw off Germany as the clock ticked down.
Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah Otayf saw more of the ball than any other Asian player during the final round of group stage fixtures, with the Al Hilal midfielder posting 131 touches during his side’s 1-0 victory over the Pharaohs.
His teammate and midfield partner Al Faraj came next on the list with 126 touches, while Mohammed Al Burayk completed a one-two-three for the Saudis with 103 as the Green Falcons rounded off their tournament with three points.
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