By Yoo Jee-ho
AL RAYYAN, Qatar, Dec. 2 (Yonhap) -- South Korean captain Son Heung-min thanked the country's supporters for giving the team enough energy to get past Portugal and into the round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar on Friday.
Son assisted on Hwang Hee-chan's stoppage-time winner in South Korea's 2-1 victory over Portugal at Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, west of Doha. South Korea finished in second place in Group H with four points and advanced to the knockouts for the third time in their World Cup history, after 2002 and 2010.
South Korea gave up the match's first goal in just the fifth minute, before Kim Young-gwon netted the equalizer in the 27th minute and Hwang landed the knockout punch in the dying moments.
"As expected, this was a tough match, and even more so because we gave up the early goal," Son said in a televised interview afterward. "But the players never gave up and made sacrifices for the team. And our fans here and back home gave us so much support, and they gave us the energy we needed to go the extra distance."
This is Son's third World Cup appearance and his first trip to the last 16.
"I've been waiting for this moment a long time ... and I believed we could get it done," said Son, who has been playing here with a protective mask on his surgically repaired face. "I have not been doing a good job as their captain, but my teammates have covered my back. I am so thankful for them and so proud of them."
South Korea must wait the conclusion of Group G matches later Friday to find out whom they will face in the round of 16 on Monday at Stadium 974 in Doha. The opponent will be the winner of Group G, likely world No. 1 Brazil.
"Our objective was to reach the round of 16, and we'll do the best we can in the upcoming match," Son said. "In football, you never know how things will play out."
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