Attacking sensation Mohammed Kudus scored twice as Ghana emerged on top from a thrill-a-minute encounter with Paulo Bento’s spirited Korea Republic on Monday.
The Black Stars appeared in line for a Group H cruise when they led 2-0 at half-time. The opening 24 minutes were contested almost exclusively in the Korean half, but when Jordan Ayew sent over a free-kick from the left, the ball dropped for Mohammed Salisu to force home from close range.
Kudus quickly doubled the Africans’ lead, ghosting behind the Korea backline to apply a deft flick to another tremendous Ayew delivery. Cho Guesung had Korea Republic’s first attempt on target of the tournament when the striker worked Lawrence Ati-Zigi with a header from six yards.
Cho suddenly had his tail up and, in the space of 168 dizzying seconds, the 24-year-old scored twice to pull his team level. First, he stole in front of Salisu to head home a cross from substitute Lee Kangin. Then he leapt above Gideon Mensah to power Kim Jinsu’s wonderful delivery past the helpless Ati-Zigi.
Ghana demonstrated terrific mettle to respond. Mensah flew down the left to cross along the floor. Inaki Williams missed his kick – but Kudus was on hand to clinically restore the advantage.
Ati-Zigi clawed out Lee’s dipping free-kick and Kim Jinsu saw an effort swiped off the line before Ghana clung on during 10 minutes of time added on to climb above their Asian rivals ahead of Friday’s closing fixtures.
Ati-Zigi had endured the sort of game that makes you wonder why anyone would want to be a goalkeeper. He’d saved well from Cho Gue-sung when Korea Republic finally managed an effort on target, and the man from St Gallen’s handling and command of his penalty area were both assured.
Then Cho twice delivered blows that Ati-Zigi was powerless to resist. Indeed, there’s not a keeper in Qatar who would have been able to deny the irrepressible Cho. When Ghana overcame the disappointment of their two-goal advantage being wiped out in the blink of an eye to restore the lead, it was time to bolt up and preserve the points.
Korea Republic, however, buoyed by their earlier recovery, came forward in waves. And Lee Kang-in must have thought he’d equalised with a vicious, dipping free-kick, destined for the inside of Ati-Zigi’s post.
The 25-year-old had other ideas, taking off to his left for a stunning fingertip save. It had felt like we were going to see a goal every time each side attacked, but Ati-Zigi extinguished that theory and ensured his team wouldn’t give away two points for a second time in the match.