(Asian Cup) Premier League stars Son, Hwang carry S. Korea to semifinals

SEOUL, With South Korea's fate hanging in the balance, the team's two Premier League stars, Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur and Hwang Hee-chan of Wolverhampton Wanderers, delivered the goods at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup in Qatar on Friday. The two had a goal apiece for South Korea's 2-1 comeback win over Australia in the quarterfinals at Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, south of Doha. South Korea are now two victories away from capturing their first Asian Cup trophy since 1960. Son and Hwang each had a hand on the other's goal, too. Australia were nursing a 1-0 lead with the clock ticking down during second-half stoppage time, as they were trying to fend off a furious South Korean push. And in a desperate attempt to generate one last scoring chance, Son charged hard into the left side of the box, where he was tackled by Lewis Miller. Miller got to his feet and wagged his index finger in denial, but referee Ahmed Al-Kaf immediately called for a penalty. Son usually takes penalties for South Korea, but this time, Hwang got the opportunity. And he beat goalkeeper Mathew Ryan with a hard shot to the top left corner, leveling the score in a match that South Korea were on the verge of losing. Then 12 minutes into the 30-minute extra time, the two stars turned the table. Hwang won a free kick just outside the left side of the box -- with Miller committing the foul once again -- and Son stepped up for the spot kick this time. The shot was set up in precisely the spot where Son could curl the ball into the left corner. It was the type of shot that goalkeepers know is coming but still can't stop it, due to the shot's power and precision. After a brief chat with Lee Kang-in, the team's left-footed shot taker, Son fired his signature bender into the net, out of Ryan's reach. South Korea hung on to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Son arrived at the Asian Cup with 12 goals this season for Spurs, good for fourth in the Premier League. Hwang had scored a career-high and a team-best 10 goals before joining the national team, and is tied for sixth in the scoring department. The two were regarded as key components of South Korea's quest to end their 64-year title drought at the Asian Cup, and justifiably so. Whereas Son has been at the center of South Korea's run so far, with two penalty goals along the way, Hwang had missed the first two group matches with a left hip injury. He was limited in the next two matches as well, and finally made his first start in Qatar Friday. Hwang made the most of that opportunity against Australia. He scored a would-be goal just past the half-hour mark that was canceled on an offside ruling. His aggressive forays into the box often sent big but slow-footed Australian defenders scrambling, which in turn opened space for Hwang's teammates. Son has yet to score an open-play goal in this tournament but is now tied with Lee for the most goals for South Korea with three. With each passing match, Son has demonstrated his ability to make a difference even when he isn't on the top of his game. The South Koreans were playing on just two days' rest, while their opponents enjoyed two additional days of recovery time following their round of 16 matches. South Korea beat Saudi Arabia on penalties on Tuesday and went to the extra time once again Friday. "This isn't really the way we want to win matches, but we were ready to battle hard," Son said. "Winning this way will help with the morale of the whole team. I was really touched by the sacrifices that everyone on the team made. Each and every one of the guys deserves to be complimented." Son revealed that head coach Jurgen Klinsmann had told him to take the penalty but that Hwang talked Son out of it. "Hee-chan said he was pretty confident, and I let him take his shot," Son said. "I could have gone ahead and taken that shot for my personal glory but I felt it was more important to bring the team together. As Hee-chan gets older, I wanted to show people that he was growing into an important part of this team." Hwang, 28, thanked Son for letting him take the pressure-packed spot kick. "I felt a huge sense of responsibility. I wasn't just taking the kick for myself. It was for the rest of the team and for our supporters," Hwang said. "I wasn't that nervous. I was only thinking about converting that opportunity. I am glad it worked out well." Next up for South Korea will be Jordan in the semifinals on Tuesday. The two countries ended in a 2-2 draw when they met during the group stage on Jan. 20. "It doesn't matter what happened in the group stage. No matter whom we face at this point, we have to bring our best," Son said. "Now that we've come this far, we want to do our very best to accomplish our goal." Hwang said the win over Australia represented "a huge step forward" and the result was the only thing that mattered. "I want to savor this victory for tonight, get some rest, and then start preparing for the next one," Hwang said. "I think this match will give us a huge boost in our journey toward our ultimate goal."

Source: Yonhap News Agency