Mohammed Kudus scored twice as Ghana beat South Korea 3-2 in a pulsating encounter on Monday to keep their World Cup hopes alive and leave Paulo Bento’s side facing an early exit.
Mohammed Salisu opened the scoring against the run of play midway through the first half at Education City Stadium and Ajax midfielder Kudus doubled the Black Stars’ lead.
But the Asian side, who looked toothless in the first half, roared back after the break, pulling level through a quickfire double from forward Cho Gue-sung either side of the hour mark.
Ghana looked shell-shocked as the Korean fans celebrated wildly but they were back in front in the 68th minute when Kudus finished calmly at the back post after his teammate Inaki Williams failed to connect with a cross from the left.
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The result takes Ghana second in Group H on three points. Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal will have six points and secure qualification for the last 16 if they beat Uruguay in the later kick-off in Qatar.
South Korea have just one point, gained in their opening 0-0 draw against Uruguay.
“It was emotional, ups and downs,” said Ghana coach Otto Addo, who admitted South Korea were dominant at the start of the match and gave his team huge problems after the break.
“In the end, we were a bit lucky but this is football,” he added. “Against Portugal we were unlucky and now we’re lucky and we’re really, really happy that our passionate fight got rewarded.”
The Asian side, captained by Son Heung-min, were quicker to settle, forcing a succession of corners but were unable to fashion a shot on target in the entire first half.
Son looked uncomfortable in the black face mask he is wearing after having surgery for a facial injury he suffered while playing for Tottenham, constantly readjusting it.
Ghana, who lost their opener 3-2 to Portugal, struggled to gain a foothold in the game.
But the match totally changed complexion in the 24th minute when the impressive Jordan Ayew, playing down the left for Ghana, swung in a free-kick.
South Korea failed to clear and Southampton centre-back Salisu finished with his left foot, sparking wild scenes of celebration among the Ghana fans decked out in red, yellow and green.
The goal revitalised the African nation, who reached the quarter-finals in 2010, with South Korea struggling to deal with their physicality and direct approach.
Now playing with flair and confidence, Ghana poured forward and doubled their lead in the 34th minute when Kudus powered a header home after a pin-point Jordan Ayew cross from the left.
Captain Andre Ayew – the brother of Jordan – called his men into a team huddle on the pitch and the players got soaked by the sprinklers after the half-time whistle.
The Koreans, at last, found the net in the 58th minute when Cho headed home a cross from substitute Lee Kang-in, who had just been brought on by Bento.
And they were level just three minutes later when Cho headed home Kim Jin-Su’s ball from the left, sparking scenes of delirium among the Korean fans.
Ghana were rocking but they dug deep and restored their lead midway through the second half through the impressive Kudus.
South Korea came back again. Goalkeeper Lawrence Ati Zigi was forced into a scrambling save to push away a free-kick while Salisu cleared off the line.
South Korea kept up their relentless pressure during 10 minutes of added time but could not find an equaliser and a number of their players collapsed to the turf at the final whistle, contemplating a third straight exit at the group stage of a World Cup.
Bento was sent off after protesting at the end of the match that English referee Anthony Taylor had not allowed a corner to be taken.
South Korea’s assistant coach Sergio Costa bemoaned the “totally unfair” result.
“Not even a draw was fair,” he said. “We totally deserved the win so we can be very, very proud of what we have done. The result wasn’t fair. You can count on us for the next match.”