The Asian Cup has rolled around, and so has the writing bug. In 36 hours, give or take, Asia’s marquee continental tournament will kick off in the United Arab Emirates, though Korea only takes to the pitch on the 7th with a Group C opener against the Philippines. This week, we’ll have a more extensive preview of this year’s competition up on the site, looking at the teams standing in Korea’s way and analyzing whether or not Paulo Bento’s reinvigorated side have the pieces and the momentum needed to re-claim the continental crown that has eluded them for decades after winning its inaugural editions in 1956 and 1960. But for now, a nostalgic look back at 5 moments by Korean players in the previous editions of the Asian Cup.
5. Lee Dong-gook’s golden goal (2000 Asian Cup quarter-final)
Korea had had a pretty depressing go of things at the 2000 Asian Cup, qualifying for the quarter-finals by virtue of being the best third place finisher in a group with China, Kuwait and Indonesia. Hardly the stuff of the 2002 World Cup. This set them up for an unenviable quarter-final with Group A winners and tournament favorites Iran, and surely enough, Korea fell behind in the 71st minute. However, Kim Sang-sik levelled the score in the 90th minute, setting the scene 8 minutes later for one of Korea’s two only golden goals (the other came in 2002 – I think you know which one).
The sequence begins with Korea winning the ball at midfield, and the effervescent and effective Hong Myung-bo surged out from centreback to take on his libero responsibilities, crossing the halfway line with the ball. He prodded a pass to Sim Jae-won, whose delicious throughball found the run of Noh Jung-yoon in the box. His first touch – an excellent square pass for a 21 year-old Lee Dong-gook, then employed by the Pohang Steelers, who simply couldn’t miss. Lee would later go on to score Korea’s two remaining goals in the tournament, finishing as the top scorer. Korea fell to Saudi Arabia in the semi-final but defeated China in the third place game, finishing ‘on the podium’ for the first time since 1988.
4. Lee Woon-jae’s big save & penalty shootout heroics (2007 Asian Cup third place game)
The 2007 Korean Asian Cup side wasn’t very good. After drawing Saudi Arabia in the opening game, the Koreans stunningly lost to Bahrain in the second group match before scraping past joint hosts Indonesia 1-0 in their third group encounter to qualify for the knockout stages. They then proceeded to score no goals for the rest of the tournament – none. That tactic(?) got them past Iran in the quarter-finals, but they couldn’t see off eventual and surprise tournament winners Iraq in the semi-final, meaning that the Taeguk Warriors had failed yet again to reach the finals of the continental tournament.
The only consolation, perhaps, for Pim Verbeek’s men, was that the third place game saw Korea take on an equally disappointed Japanese side, who had just fallen to Saudi Arabia in the semis. The number four moment on this list is Lee Woon-jae’s penalty save against Naotake Hanyu – his denying of the sixth Japanese spotkick-taker – and prior saves to even bring the game to a shootout – was vintage Lee Woon-jae. If Korea could not go home with the trophy, they could at least go home with triumph in a bitter Haniljeon fraught with nasty challenges and flaring tempers (then-coach Hong Myung-bo was bizarrely ejected from the game).
(Bonus moment: Then coach Hong Myung-bo gets angry with the match officials and demonstrates his superb command of the English language with an unmistakably enunciated expletive at 6:14 of that clip)
3. Yoon Bit-garam’s golden goal (2011 Asian Cup quarter-final)
Yoon Bit-garam doesn’t often feature for the national team, and he doesn’t often score goals, but when he does, they’re great goals. Before his 2016 free kick stunner against the Czech Republic, Yoon could boast about this goal in the 2011 Asian Cup which saw Korea see off a valiant Iranian performance in extra time. The game had all the hallmarks of what was good about that 2011 team – Jung Sung-ryong actually making saves, Ji Dong-won looking light-footed and menacing, and Park Ji-sung’s incredible, lung-bursting, box-to-box domination which is videographic proof that he was the best Asian player at that time. That said, this was still Korea, and Iran were solid as always defensively (though not as radically negative as under Quieroz).
Yoon came on for Koo Ja-cheol near the end of the second half as Cho Kwang-rae’s first substitution to try and rectify Korea’s inability to create opportunities in the final third, and he did not disappoint. In a game so devoid of opportunities and with players struggling for fitness under the desert heat, there was only ever going to be one moment to win the game – a golden goal, in essence. Lee Chung-yong passed off to Yoon on the right flank, who dribbled and opted to cut inside instead of passing to a streaking Cha Du-ri on the overlap. Iran were far too passive and allowed Yoon to open up his body and unleash a blistering left-footed drive into the bottom corner past Mehdi Rahmati. 1-0 Korea. Cho’s men would see off the second half of extra time and make their way to the semi-final.
2. Hwang Jae-won’s equalizer (2011 Asian Cup semi-final)
However, the 2011 Asian Cup served us two incredible moments in Korean Asian Cup history, and the second was perhaps even more memorable than the first. After Korea finished 2nd in the Group Stage behind Australia on goal differential, Korea and Japan collided in the semi-final for what was one of the most tantalizing, nervewracking and memorable Haniljeons in decades. Both sides traded blows early – Ki Sung-yueng converting a penalty in the 23rd minute, and Maeda converting a fluid Japanese break in the 36th minute. Neither side could break the deadlock, sending the game to extra time, where Hosogai gave the Japanese the lead again, cleaning up a saved penalty (one that was very controversially awarded) in the 96th minute.
The Japanese then bunkered down, leaving Korea with very little room or time to create an opportunity. A free kick at the 120th minute was Korea’s last roll of the dice. Ki Sung-yueng curled the ball in, searching out the head of Kim Shin-wook in the box (with normal hair, oddly enough), who knocked the ball back into a melee of players. The ball fell to Son Heung-min, at his first international competition for Korea, who took a touch and a shot – blocked! – but the ball fell to unlikely hero Hwang Jae-won. The centre-back thumped home with his left boot. It was the 30 year-old’s first goal for Korea in his last ever appearance for the national team – his tenure with the KNT largely limited to Cho Kwang-rae’s reign – but in that brief moment between that magic goal and Korea’s painfully three missed penalty kicks in the shootout, he seemed set to write himself into Korean football lore.
1. Son Heung-min’s last-minute salvo (2015 Asian Cup final)
But at the top of the list is another last-minute show-stopper, this time by Korea’s talismanic forward. Son Heung-min’s injury time equalizer against Australia at the 2015 Asian Cup final in front of a sea of Socceroo gold in Sydney would have gone down as perhaps one of the most iconic moments in Asian Cup history – if it weren’t for the eventual outcome of the bout.
After what was a largely toothless, tense and stale final, punctuated only by Massimo Luongo’s long-distance belter in the first half to put the hosts in the lead, Korea found themselves struggling to create any opportunities against a well-organized and more-fit Australian side, leaving then-boss Uli Stielike little option but to throw on Han Kook-young and send forward Kwak Tae-hwi from centreback as a desperation tactic to try and win a long-ball up the pitch. At the stroke of the 91st minute, Kim Young-gwon, tasked with hitting the long-balls, lobbed a pass upfield for Kwak, who did enough to force a scramble for the second ball. Son Heung-min’s eventually knocked the ball down with a high boot – too high, perhaps? – to Han Kook-young, who found captain Ki Sung-yueng. A pass, a touch, a dribble and Son was in from short range on his left foot, though either one would have been fine – it pays to be a two-footed forward in today’s game – and sent the top of the net bulging with an emphatic finish past Matt Ryan.
Son leapt over the advertisement boards, wheeled away and jumped into the swarm of Taeguk Warrior red; after Son’s tearful exit from the 2014 World Cup, where he was unable to make much of an impact, this was the moment the then-Bayer Leverkusen man announced that he was to define the next era of Korean national team football.