Korea outclassed and outlasted host Great Britain to reach the semifinals of the men's football match at the 2012 London Olympics after winning their penalty shootout 5-4 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff early Sunday (Korean time).
For many fans, the result was as impressive as the country's run to the final four at the 2002 World Cup, which Korea co-hosted with Japan. Brazil now stands as the one hurdle separating the Asian side from the Olympic final.
The quarterfinal between Korea and Team GB was nothing if not dramatic, with home fans waving Union Jacks dominating the sold-out 74,500-capacity stadium and adding to the pressure. However, Ji Dong-won's opening goal in the 29th minute silenced the crowd and put the British on the back foot.
Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey equalized with a penalty five minutes later after Oh Jae-suk was deemed to have handled the ball. But lightning refused to strike twice for the Welshman in the 39th when he was awarded another penalty following Hwang Seok-ho's tackle on Daniel Sturridge in the box. This time around, Korean goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong managed to second-guess Ramsey and was able to block his shot.
This was followed by a frustrating 80 minutes for the home side during which it created scant goal-scoring opportunities while Korea remained composed, with accurate passing and tireless runs on goal.
Korea was rewarded for its perseverance after Chelsea's Sturridge fluffed his penalty in the shootout by sending it straight into the hands of goalkeeper Lee Bum-young, who came on for Jung during the match. Ki Sung-yueng then stepped up to blast home the winner.
The semifinal against Brazil will take place early Wednesday morning at Old Trafford, Manchester, and few are predicting an upset against the South Americans' star-studded roster. Neymar (Santos), Hulk (Porto), Leandro Damião (Internacional), and Alexandre Pato (AC Milan) make up an impressive attacking line that has helped the team rack up 12 goals so far throughout the games.
Of these, Damião scored four and Neymar three. Neymar's dribbling skills have often seen him compared to Argentina's Messi, while Damião is a strong and physical striker who poses a constant menace to opposing defenses with his ability in the air.
Brazil won all three of its group games and rallied twice to beat Honduras in the quarterfinals, surrendering a total of five goals along the way. As the team gave away two goals each to Egypt and Honduras, which pressed forward with fast counterattacks, Brazil's defense is the potential chink in its armor.
"Although Brazil is a tough opponent, we can expect a good match because it has weaknesses in defense," said Shin Moon-sun, a football commentator and professor at Myongji University.
Experts say Korea will need to press Brazil from the get-go and leave little space between defense and midfield, just as it did against Great Britain. This strategy, however, will require all of the players' stamina, making it imperative that they get sufficient rest over the two-day interim.
Ji and Ki suffered leg cramps during the two-hour quarterfinal, but the players will probably need to put in another powerhouse performance against Brazil, despite having already overexerted themselves in the first two matches against Mexico and Switzerland.
Manager Hong Myung-bo said after the match against Great Britain, "I was worried about the game because all the players were exhausted after the previous two matches. But they persevered and did well. I think we were able to win because they were stronger mentally than our opponent."