Ghana survived a furious late siege of their goal to revive their World Cup chances in a dramatic Group H clash on Monday, holding off South Korea to secure a 3-2 victory that was greeted with as much relief as it was celebration.
The African side earned their first points of the tournament and can still reach the second round on the back of two goals from Mohammed Kudus and desperate defending in a roller-coaster match at the Education City Stadium.
Mohammed Salisu scored the opener and Kudus headed home as Ghana took a 2-0 halftime lead, only to allow South Korea to fight back with two goals in three minutes from Cho Gue-sung, who epitomised his side’s fighting spirit by attacking the ball to head home twice in quick succession.
Ghana snatched back the lead within seven minutes, however, taking advantage of their one chance in the second half for Kudus to deliver the winner.
"It was emotional with the ups and downs. South Korea did very well, pushed and pressed us," said Ghana coach Otto Addo.
"We were struggling, we wanted to stop the crosses, but we didn’t put enough intensity into stopping the crosses. There was passionate defending and very good goalkeeping... in the end we were a bit lucky.”
Ten minutes of stoppage time only served to heighten the drama, culminating in a contrast of emotions at the final whistle as an exhausted Ghana celebrated and the Koreans were left in tears.
They had fought back in spectacular style, making only one second-half error which ultimately proved costly.
Ghana’s first-half lead was down to two perfect crosses from the left delivered by the right-footed Jordan Ayew – both perfectly weighted and with the requisite pace to catch out the Korean defence.
The first in the 24th minute caused chaos and Salisu snapped up the loose ball to score and the second 10 minutes later found Kudus who glanced a header into the net.
Korean changes at halftime put them right back in the match, even if talisman Son Heung-min, again playing with a black face mask to protect his facial fractures, proved surprisingly ineffectual.
Cho’s goals were both powerful headers as the Ghanaian defence was overrun, first in the 58th minute and, with the Korean supporters behind the Ghana goal already in delirium, a second followed three minutes later.
South Korea looked favourites to win the game but offered Ghana a sudden window of opportunity which Kudus took in the 68th minute.
Ghana sat back and were besieged for about half an hour, with Lawrence Ati-Zigi making several good saves and his defenders putting their bodies on the line as they blocked efforts from all angles.
"The result is totally unfair, even a draw would be unfair. We deserved a win," said Korea’s assistant coach Sergio Costa, forced to do the post-match news conference after Paulo Bento was red-carded as his frustrations boiled over at the final whistle in a verbal tirade at English referee Anthony Taylor.