Just enough South Korean guile and goals on two set pieces gave Asia its first heroes of this World Cup on Tuesday in Durban.
Park Chu-Young curled a free kick past suddenly vulnerable Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama in the 49th minute, and South Korea survived a late scare to advance to the round of 16 with a 2-2 draw.
South Korea clinched the second seed in Group B behind Argentina, who topped Greece 2-0 on Tuesday and eliminated the Greeks from contention. The Taeguk Warriors will meet Group A winner Uruguay on June 26 in Port Elizabeth.
South Korea advanced out of group play for just the second time in their history, eight years after their magical run to the 2002 semifinals, when the tournament was played on their home soil. They’re also the first Asian Football Confederation team to reach the round of 16 since 2002, although both Japan and Australia are still in contention later this week.
Australia reached the round of 16 in 2006, but still played under the Oceania Football Confederation banner at the time.
The draw was the latest in a series of troubling results for African teams, despite South Africa’s win over France earlier on Tuesday. African teams stand at 2-7-5 through the Group B finales, and have yet to qualify a side for the round of 16.
Chu-Young’s moment came on a brilliant right-footed strike on a free kick from outside the box that beat Enyeama back post and gave the tournament its first goal scored directly from a set piece. That goal gave the South Koreans a 2-1 lead and erased a 1-0 early deficit, but the lead didn’t last long against a Nigeria side that would have advanced out of the group with a win.
Just moments after missing perhaps the tournament’s easiest scoring chance from two yards out, Everton forward Yakubu Ayegbeni buried a penalty kick in the 69th minute after a tackle in the box from South Korea’s Kim Nam-Il.
Obafemi Martins missed a chance in the 80th minute to win it and advance, chipping a left-footed shot wide the far post and sealing an early dismissal for Africa’s most populous nation and perhaps its most promising World Cup hope.
The scene looked promising for Nigeria in the early going Tuesday, thanks to a 12th minute goal from Kalu Uche. The Nigerian forward beat South Korean defender Cha Du-Ri to a pin-point cross from winger Chidi Odiah, giving the Super Eagles a lead that lasted until just before the half.
Lee Jung-Soo broke past Nigerian defender Rabui Ofolabi at the back post and nodded home a curling indirect kick from Ki Sung-Yeung in the 39th minute, pulling the teams level at the break.
NIGERIA: Enyeama, Afolabi, Odiah, Shittu, Yobo (Echijele, 45’), Uche, Etuhu, Yussuf, Kanu (Martins, 57’), Obasi, Yakubu (Obinna, 70’)
SOUTH KOREA: Sung-Ryong, Jung-Soo, Yong-Hyung, Young-Pyo, Du-Ri, Sung-Yong (Jae-Sung), Ji-Sung, Jung-Woo, Ki-Hun (Nam-Il, 64’), Chung-Yong, Chu-Young.