Ghana have edged South Korea 3-2 in a scintillating World Cup encounter on Monday.
A rollercoaster evening’s work against South Korea brought a two-goal lead, courtesy of Mohammed Salisu and Mohammed Kudus, before a pair of fine headers from Cho Gue-sung pegged them back.
Kudus, the gifted Ajax forward, had the final say and the details only partly convey a compelling, intensely absorbing spectacle. South Korea retain interest in the competition but must now beat Portugal and hold their breath.
The early tempo spoke of what would follow. It was set by South Korea, who flew forward and showed no hint of the tribulations they would soon face.
They had won seven corners by the 18 minute mark: none brought a clear chance but Ghana were forced to defend scrappily as shots and headers rained in. Jeong Woo-yeong saw a drive deflected wide and Son Heung-min, warming to life in a mask, found clean air with an overhead kick. Son had already tricked to the line with one run down the left, outsmarting Tariq Lamptey on the Brighton player’s first World Cup start.
It made for a tide of red Ghana could not easily stem, although Daniel Amartey broke things up with an arm across Cho that earned a yellow card. Perhaps the act of slowing the game down proved crucial: Ghana had constructed nothing by the first half’s midway point but nonetheless turned the game on its head.
The opener was scrappy but no less crucial for that. It came after Jordan Ayew, another who had not against the Portuguese swung over a deep left-sided free-kick; Kim Min-jae leapt to head away but, in a crowd of bodies, the ball ricocheted inside the six-yard box. Salisu was sharpest to it, sweeping past Kim Seung-gyu for a goal that hardly seemed likely.
Now Ghana’s tails were up. Kudus, previously anonymous, burst into life before being hauled back by Jung Woo-young. South Korea’s fire had been doused but it was still a surprise to see them on the ropes again so quickly. They seemed to be flattened by a second goal, shortly after the half-hour, that was more aesthetically pleasing than the first but bore telling similarities.
It came from another cross by Jordan Ayew, sent in from an identical position but from open play after Gideon Mensah had fed him. Again it was not defended, Kudus making smart late run and converting with a flashed glancing header.
In their starkly different ways, these now looked like two teams transformed. When Son next had a run at Lamptey, he came off second best. There could hardly have been a more succinct precis of the change in tone and Thomas Partey could have accentuated it had he not headed over.
South Korea huddled in conference before the restart. Whatever was said made the most profound difference and Ghana could not say there was no warning before Cho thrust them back into the game so thrillingly.
In the 53rd minute he had reached a left-wing cross only for Lawrence Ati-Zigi to push away; it was the first serious threat to their goal but the next two were carried out in clinical fashion.
First Cho took advantage of outstanding work from Lee Kang-in, who had only been introduced a minute previously and showed his eagerness when sliding in to win possession from Lamptey. He matched that with an excellent delivery and Cho, hanging in the air, made no mistake this time. A repeat performance arrived within three minutes, Kim Jin-su taking Son’s pass on the overlap and chipping across for Cho to outdo his earlier effort by throwing himself into a finish of stunning hunger and power.
Would South Korea now push on? It seemed likely although this game’s capacity to confound was now well established. So it was that Ghana flew straight back into the ascendancy, the left flank proving fertile ground for a fifth time in the game. On this occasion it was Mensah who centred towards Inaki Williams, the centre-forward miskicking. Kudus was on hand to greet the moving ball with a low first-time shot of exceptional quality.
There was no chance South Korea would go quietly. Ati-Zigi repelled Lee’s free-kick and Salisu cleared off the line from Kim Jun-su. The keeper denied Cho a hat-trick in added time and Ghana can now reckon with history.