A late strike from Koo Ja-cheol saw South Korea come from behind to beat Uzbekistan 2-1 in Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier in Seoul.
A shock 0-0 draw with Syria and a 1-0 defeat to Iran gave Uli Stielike’s side a worrying start to their Group A campaign in round three of the Asian section, and the home fans feared the worst when Marat Bikmaev gave Uzbekistan the lead with a brilliant first-half finish.
South Korea enjoyed 75 per cent of the possession but looked short on ideas against a disciplined visiting defence, which had conceded just one goal in four previous qualifying games.
But Nam Tae-hee snatched an equaliser with 23 minutes to play, heading in Park Joo-ho’s cross, before Koo rifled in a winner with just five minutes from time to send the home support into raptures.
The victory lifts South Korea above Uzbekistan into second place in the group at the halfway stage, with only the top two guaranteed an automatic spot at the finals in Russia in 2018.
Jang Hyun-soo came close with a header after just five minutes but the Jeju World Cup Stadium was shocked when the visitors took the lead midway through the first half.
Kim Seung-gyu’s clearance went straight to the feet of Bikmaev, who sent a superb chip up and over the retreating goalkeeper and his recovering defenders and into the net from 35 yards out.
Tottenham forward Son Heung-min was denied by Aleksandr Lobanov but chances were scarce for a Korean side who looked alarmingly short on confidence.
But just as Uzbekistan began to look likely to hold on to a shock win, the hosts capitalised on some poor defending to equalise.
Son sent Park into the area down the left, and his clipped cross looped over Lobanov to the far post, where Nam arrived ahead of his marker to head into the unguarded net.
Son spurned a good chance for a winner as he failed to control substitute Kim Shin-wook’s pass in the area, but his blushes were spared when Koo snatched the victory after a simple route-one attack.
Hong Chul launched a high ball towards the box from the left, Kim headed it down into the path of Koo, and he drilled left-footed into Lobanov’s bottom-right corner from 12 yards.