DURBAN, South Africa: South Korea has been a regular at the World Cup. All but one of its previous seven appearances ended disappointingly in the first round.
There was, however, the 2002 tournament it co-hosted with Japan, when the South Koreans went to the semifinals.
On Tuesday, they added another memorable chapter to their soccer history by advancing out of Group A with a 2-2 draw against Nigeria.
"Our goal was to reach the last 16. We succeeded in doing this for the first time away from home," South Korea captain Park Ji-sung said. "So I`m very happy we accomplished this in South Africa. All of the players know how important this is."
Lee Jung-soo and Park Chu-young scored for South Korea after Kalu Uche had given Nigeria the lead in the 12th minute. Ayegbeni Yakubu netted a 69th-minute penalty kick to draw Nigeria level again — moments after Yakubu missed a wide open net.
Argentina won Group B by beating Greece 2-0, and plays Mexico on Sunday at Johannesburg, while South Korea plays Uruguay on Saturday at Port Elizabeth.
"During the game, we conceded the first goal and that was a tough situation," South Korea coach Huh Jung-moo said. "But the players stayed cool and leveled the score."
Nigeria was the second African team to fall out of thefirst World Cup held on the continent. Host South Africa was eliminated earlier Tuesday.
The Korean substitutes sprinted onto the field and hugged their teammates at the final whistle, then danced in front of a small group of flag-waving fans.
South Korea had slightly more of the possession in the first half, but it was Nigeria that took the lead in the 12th minute. Chidi Odiah beat two defenders on the right wing and sent in a low cross for Uche, who slipped in front of his defender, Cha Du-ri, to fire home from close range.
But amid the Nigerian pressure, defender Lee made it 1-1 in the 38th minute with his second goal of the tournament. Ki Sung-yong floated a free kick to the far post and Lee stooped to head the ball, missed it and stuck his right foot out to volley it past goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.
Park made it 2-1 just four minutes after the break when he curled a free kick around the wall and into the far corner of Enyeama`s goal — one of the rare free kicks to produce a goal at this World Cup.
Five minutes later he nearly did it again, but his powerful free kick went just wide.
Yakubu missed a golden chance in the 66th, then made amends three minutes later, showing more composure in front of the goal by putting in a penalty kick after Kim Nam-il had fouled Chinedu Obasi.
Nigeria coach Lars Lagerback was left regretting his team`s inability to finish.
"I was disappointed about all the chances," Lagerback said. "The players have done really well. They worked hard over time."
BDST: 1057hrs, June 23, 2010