South Korea have booked an Asian Cup semi-final showdown with Japan after a 1-0 win over Iran on Saturday at the Qatar Sports Club Stadium.
Second-half substitute Yoon Bit-Garam scored the winner for the Koreans in the dying stages of the first period of extra time with a stunning left-foot shot, a clear highlight in a dour encounter that failed to live up to expectations.
In a physical first half it was South Korea who started the better, but for all their territorial domination they struggled to carve out clear chances.
The first opportunity fell to the Koreans, with Lee Yong-Rae flashing a volley just wide of the upright after 23 minutes.
Celtic full-back Cha Du-Ri looked to get forward at every opportunity as Iran struggled to gain a foothold in midfield against the industrious Koreans, whose pressure and tackling was a standout.
But for all their possession, it was Iran who came closest to taking the lead on 27 minutes when a vicious in-swinging free-kick was nodded on by Ji Dong-Won and flew towards goal, forcing a brilliant diving save from Jung Sung-Ryong.
A corner from Ki Sung-Yong was nodded back across goal by Hwang Jae-Won, prompting Iran goalkeeper Mehdi Seyed Rahmati to punch the ball clear.
Just before half-time, Ji – whose close control was giving the Iranian defenders some headaches – shimmied inside and blazed a curling shot just wide of goal.
Two minutes after the restart, Rahmati had to acrobatically swat away a corner that appeared goal-bound and a short time later Cha found Ji inside the penalty area but the striker’s header flew straight to the keeper.
Reza Mohamad Khalatbari could have scored for the Iranians when a good ball from substitute Khosro Heydari created a goalmouth scramble, but Jung was on hand to avert the danger.
Ehsan Hajsafi went close for Iran with a strong shot on 70 minutes that flew just wide as his side began to come into the game with the Koreans tiring, and with 13 minutes to go a free-kick from Jayad Nekounam hit the side-netting.
With neither side able to break the deadlock in the closing stages, extra time was needed to find a winner.
As the first half of extra time petered out, South Korean substitute Yoon collected the ball on the edge of the box, cutting inside both Pejman Noori and Jalal Hosseini before lashing a stunning left-foot shot past Rahmati to the delight of their supporters.
Iran threw everything at the South Koreans in the dying stages, with Andranik Teymourian having a great opportunity but the midfielder blasted his shot straight to Jung.
A short time later Masoud Shojaei went close with a beautiful chip that floated over the crossbar, and despite the strong pressure from Iran, South Korea held on to claim their place in the semis.
They will, however, be without defender Lee Jung-Soo, who picked up his second caution of the tournament in the second half and will miss the semi-final through suspension.