With a late goal yet again, Belgium made the difference in the 78th minute when defender Jan Vertonghen followed up a shot from teenage striker Divock Origi and tapped in the rebound past goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu.
“We knew all games were going to be tough,” said Belgium coach Marc Wilmots. “But even with 10 men, we still pushed forward. These guys are really hungry.”
After three narrow victories and precious little beautiful play, Belgium will now play the United States in Salvador on Tuesday.
“Mission accomplished,” said Wimots.
And along with Iran, Japan and Australia, South Korea departed as the last team from the Asian federation, all in the first round.
Algeria finished second in the group after a 1-1 draw with Russia — a result that meant South Korea needed a four-goal win to advance.
They never came close.
“All of our players did their utmost. They gave it their all but I think that it was my shortcoming, my failing as a coach that caused this result,” said coach Hong Myung-Bo.
The former captain of the 2002 team which reached the semifinals did not offer his resignation, though.
South Korea did not go without a strong fight, landing the ball on Belgium’s crossbar on the hour-mark and testing standout goalie Thibaut Courtois with several shots afterward. Yet even with a man up, the Koreans could never pressure Belgium enough to find an opening and paid the price.
“I really felt bad after that but now only joy is left,” he said.
Belgium promised to play with flair in this tournament but is proving that it’s still a master at grinding out results.
“It gives us so much confidence to get those nine points with only 10 men and prepare for the Americans in that mood,” Vertonghen said.