Qatar stunned South Korea 1-0 to reach the Asian Cup semi-finals for the first time on Friday – and earned permission from coach Felix Sanchez to celebrate with some fast food.
The Koreans were looking to end 59 years of hurt in the tournament but paid for missing a string of second-half chances in Abu Dhabi before Abdelaziz Hatim’s late hammer blow for the 2022 World Cup hosts.
Told his players had secretly visited the local Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant after beating Iraq in the last 16, Sanchez was momentarily lost for words.
“I had no idea,” blushed the Spaniard. “Today they can go to Kentucky if they want – for an hour. What the players did is amazing for the country, I’m very proud of them.
“There are some big emotions today, but it’s no miracle,” insisted Sanchez, whose side face either hosts United Arab Emirates or holders Australia in the last four. We deserve to be in the semis. I feel like the happiest coach in the world – it’s a big step forward.”
South Korea took until three minutes into the second half to even register a shot on target, Hwang Ui-jo forcing a save from Saad Al-Sheeb from the edge of the box.
Lee Chung-yong then blazed wide, talismanic captain Son Heung-min went close and Kim Jin-su’s free kick smacked against the post. That wastefulness came back to haunt them when Hatim smashed a long-range rocket past Korean goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu after 78 minutes to give Qatar a famous victory.
Hwang thought he had equalised two minutes later, only to be given offside – a decision upheld by the video assistant referee.
The Qataris, who have faced constant abuse from Asian Cup crowds over the Gulf blockade of the tiny, energy-rich state, sobbed tears of delight at the final whistle before stripping to the waist and dancing for joy.
South Korea’s shell-shocked players could scarcely believe the manner of their ambush and cut dejected figures as they trudged off the pitch at the end. They had looked in total control, comfortably shackling Sudan-born striker Almoez Ali, who needs one more goal to equal Ali Daei’s record of eight in a single Asian Cup.
But the Koreans, who finished runners-up four years ago, lacked an end product even before the fatal breakdown that allowed Hatim to wriggle free and try his luck from distance. “We didn’t create too many opportunities but we created more than them,” shrugged South Korea coach Paulo Bento.
“We hit the post, had the clearer chances. But we weren’t as productive as we normally are and it’s true that we made some easy mistakes.”