South Korea advanced to the knockout stage for the first time since 2002 by earning a 2-2 draw Tuesday with Nigeria, which was eliminated after going winless in the group stage.
The main storyline
South Korea came in with the much more realistic hope of advancing to the knockouts, but Nigeria brought a full effort to Durban despite its paper-thin chances.
Credit the Koreans for weathering an early storm with a pair of precise free kicks — one to tie the match in the first half, the other to take the lead early in the second — that allowed them to earn the result they needed in an entertaining, back-and-forth match.
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Nigeria blew an early 1-0 lead, but the Super Eagles never quit, coming back to tie the match at 2-2 on a second-half penalty by Yakubu Aiyegbeni. The striker went from goat to hero by scoring just a few moments after horribly botching what should have been a sure goal.
Nigeria put South Korea on its heels quickly after the opening kickoff when Chidi Odiah did some wonderful work along the sideline to set up Kalu Uche with a cross in the 12th minute that made it 1-0.
Uche's second goal of the tournament seemed to put some wind under the wings of the Super Eagles, who nearly went up two when Uche's low strike smacked the right post.
But a couple of minutes later, off a free kick from just outside the penalty area, Jung-Soo Lee ran to the far post to convert Sung-Yong Ki's fine delivery and tie the match at 1-1.
Four minutes into the second half, an almost identical looking set piece yielded the tying goal, this one off the foot of Chu-Young Park.
Nigeria should have tied it in the 66th minute, but Yakubu somehow missed a tap-in into a wide-open cage.
The Super Eagles, though, continued to press, and Chinedu Obasi drew a foul inside the penalty area. Up to the spot stepped none other than Yakubu, who calmly booted a low ball into the same side of the net he ought to have hit a few minutes earlier.
Nigeria fought for a go-ahead goal up until the final whistle, but had several dangerous looking strikes sail wide of the net.
What this result means
The tie, coupled with Greece's 2-0 loss to Argentina in the other Group B finale, sends South Korea (1-1-1) to the World Cup knockout rounds for the first time since the 2002 tournament, which it co-hosted with Japan.
As the second-place team in Group B, South Korea will cross over to face Group A winner Uruguay in the round of 16 on Saturday in Port Elizabeth.
Nigeria (0-1-2) becomes the third African team to be eliminated, joining Cameroon and host South Africa. This tournament was supposed to be a coming-out party for African teams, but so far they've largely failed to deliver.
The Super Eagles, whose winless streak in World Cup matches reached eight, haven't earned a victory in the championship since 1998, when they prevailed in their opening two matches in France.
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Turning point of the game
Uche's low laser in the 36th minute smacked the post square on. A couple of inches to the left, and Nigeria may have crushed their opponents' spirit with a 2-0 lead. Instead, the Koreans marched right down the pitch and drew the foul call that yielded the 1-1 equalizer.
Man of the match
Yakubu, who bounced back from what could have been a humiliating moment to score the tying goal from the always nerve-racking penalty spot.
Goal of the match
The second South Korean marker. After the Asian side converted a free kick in the opening half to tie the match, it seized the lead early in the second with another set piece that originated from nearly an identical spot on the opposite side of the pitch.
On this one, Chu-Young Park didn't need any help, as his bending kick from just outside the box sailed past the fingertips of diving Nigeria keeper Vincent Enyeama.
The South Korean perspective
"During the game, we conceded the first goal and that was a tough situation. But the players stayed cool and levelled the score." — coach Huh Jung-moo
The Nigerian perspective
"I was disappointed about all the chances. The players have done really well. They worked hard over time." — coach Lars Lagerback