Uruguay beats South Korea to qualify for quarter finals

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PORT ELIZABETH: The game on the line, Luis Suarez sidestepped two defenders in the driving rain and struck a right-footed shot from the edge of the penalty area.

"The truth is, I didn’t realize the ball was going to go in," he said.

It did. And now Uruguay is headed to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time in 40 years after beating South Korea 2-1 on Saturday.

Suarez, who had Uruguay’s only goal in its 1-0 group stage win over Mexico, scored twice against the Koreans — early in the first half and again in the 80th with the score tied 1-1.

"In these moments, the only thing I want to do is enjoy," said Suarez, who jumped over a row of photographers to celebrate his second goal with his teammates.

Lee Chung-yong had tied the second-round game in the 68th on a header after goalkeeper Fernando Muslera left his line attempting to punch away a looping ball. It was the first goal given up by Uruguay in the tournament.

"The key to Uruguay’s improvement (at the end of the game) was South Korea’s goal. We stopped thinking about not conceding a goal," Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said.

"Luckily, Suarez scored a spectacular goal that gave us victory."

Uruguay took the lead in the eighth when goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong failed to intercept Diego Forlan’s low cross from the left flank. It bounced across the goal mouth and Suarez put the ball in the net with a one-timer from a tight angle.

"I’m really happy because, being young, I always dream of these types of moments," the 23-year-old forward said. "These moments we’re experiencing are once in a lifetime."

The goal forced the Koreans to push forward, but Uruguay’s compact defense forced them to rely on outside shots and they struggled to hit the target. Meanwhile, the South Americans sat back and waited for opportunities to counterattack.

Lee finally scored when Uruguay failed to clear a free kick hooked into the penalty area. He rose above Diego Lugano to head the ball past Muslera.

Uruguay will play either Ghana or the United States in the quarterfinals. Those teams were playing later Saturday.

The Koreans fell to their knees at the final whistle as the Uruguayans celebrated with a group hug in the downpour.

A two-time world champion, Uruguay had not gotten this far in a World Cup since it reached the semifinals in 1970. Its victory also continued South America’s amazing run in South Africa. All five of its teams made the final 16 and the continent’s record in the tournament now stands at 11 wins, one loss, three draws. And loss didn’t cost Chile, which advanced.

"I don’t want to sound cocky," Tabarez said, "but I think this team is very well-prepared to take on any team."

South Korea reached the semifinals in the 2002 World Cup it co-hosted with Japan. But this year was the first time it advanced from the group stage on foreign soil, after beating Greece 2-0, losing to Argentina 4-1 and drawing Nigeria 2-2.

"It would have been a lot better if we had played a bit smarter with a bit more confidence," South Korea coach Huh Jung-moo said. "We did learn this time that we have some areas to improve on."

The Koreans came close late in the game when Muslera couldn’t hold substitute Lee Dong-gook’s shot, but Lugano controlled the ball as it rolled toward the goal line.

FIFA declared an attendance of just 30,597 at Nelson Mandela Bay stadium, the smallest crowd yet at the venue for the World Cup. It has hosted six matches. Nearly 12,000 seats were empty and more than half the corporate hospitality suites appeared unused.

The empty seats do not impact on the World Cup organizing committee’s finances, however, because it has already received above-budget revenues from the ticket broker MATCH, which has the exclusive rights from FIFA to sell and distribute tickets.

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