KAZAN, Russia (Reuters) - You’d have to whisper it quietly to South Koreans still celebrating a first World Cup win over Germany but the reality is that one crazy night in Kazan will have to paper over a lot of cracks in an otherwise undistinguished campaign.
Shin Tae-yong’s squad were also heading home on Thursday despite the 2-0 win that sent the defending champions tumbling out of the tournament, two stoppage time goals insufficient to make up for rather a lot of poor football before it.
Bullied into submission 1-0 by Sweden in their opener, the Koreans were better in their second Group F encounter but still went down 2-1 to the pacy Mexicans.
It was only when the world champions threw caution to the wind chasing a goal they hoped would send them through to the last 16 that the Taeguk Warriors were able to finally find the net in Kazan.
Many of the South Korean players were reduced to tears when they realised their victory would not be enough to get them through to the knockout stages of the World Cup but in truth they scarcely deserved to progress.
The result did at least mean they avoided a sweep of three losses at a World Cup for the first time since 1990 and four straight international defeats for the first time.
What their campaign did not do was show any great progress from Brazil four years ago, where South Korea went out winless in the group stage, and the charge to the semi-finals on home soil in 2002 seems like a distant memory now.
There were mitigating factors, not least the loss of a string of players to injury before and during the tournament and the replacement of German Uli Stielike with Shin just over a year ago.
It was the absence of the traditional virtues of South Korean football - uncompromising defence, solid structure and lightning counter-attack - that would have disappointed their fans, however.
Having a South Korean defensive enforcer has long been a must for any Asian club side with cash to splash so to see the Swedes so thoroughly outmuscle them in Nizhny Novgorod was dispiriting.
Tottenham Hotspur winger Son Heung-min played in a more central role for his country but was forced to feed on scraps and only found the net in Kazan when Germany’s Manuel Neuer decided he too was a midfielder not a goalkeeper.
Son was delighted to finally get his first victory in his second World Cup and said he wanted to be back in Qatar in 2022 if South Korea qualified for a 10th straight tournament.
“We have to keep developing to play better football,” Son told Korean media.
“We have to look ahead next four years, or maybe eight years.”
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty