PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa – 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 scored twice against the Koreans – early in the first half and again in the 80th minute.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Tri-City Herald
Lee Chung-yong had tied the second-round game in the 68th minute 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 minute 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.
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.
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 plays Ghana, a 2-1 winner over the United States, in the quarterfinals.
A two-time world champion, Uruguay had not gotten this far 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.