With the clock ticking down at Education City Stadium, the Koreans knew they needed one more goal against Portugal to leapfrog the South Americans and Hwang Hee-chan delivered in stoppage time to secure a 2-1 victory.
The Korean players stood in a huddle watching the final minutes of the Ghana v Uruguay match on a mobile phone as they waited for their place in the last 16 to be confirmed.
Uruguay, leading 2-0, needed one more goal to go through but fell agonisingly short despite piling on the pressure, crashing out of the Qatar tournament on goals scored.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal topped Group H despite their defeat and will next face Switzerland, who beat Serbia 3-2 in a bad-tempered match.
Tottenham forward Son Heung-min, who produced a brilliant assist for the winner after a quiet tournament so far, said he was crying “tears of happiness”.
“We waited really long for this moment and we as players believed altogether we could do this,” he said.
“There were moments when I wasn’t able to do my best and I am thankful for my team-mates that they were able to cover me in the moments I wasn’t able to fulfil my duties. I’m very proud of them.”
The game between Uruguay and Ghana was billed as a chance for the African side to avenge their defeat by the South Americans at the 2010 World Cup, where Luis Suarez was the villain of the piece.
A deliberate handball on the goalline by Suarez forward denied Ghana an extra-time winner in their quarter-final in South Africa.
Suarez, 35, who refused to apologise for his misdeeds before the game in Qatar, had a major role in his team’s goals, both scored by Giorgian de Arrascaeta, but it was not enough.
The veteran, who was replaced by Edinson Cavani in the second half, was inconsolable after the defeat and furious Uruguay players surrounded the officials, incensed that they had not been awarded a penalty.
“I feel sadness and disillusionment. I was lucky enough to play in four World Cups,” Suarez told Uruguayan TV station Teledoce.
“Before the match I was thinking about my four-year-old son who had never seen me win a World Cup match.
“Today he saw me win but with an image of sadness. For a father, for a player, that’s tough.”
Remo Freuler’s brilliant goal early in the second half sent the Swiss through to the knockout rounds for the fourth time in five World Cups.
Tempers flared in the second half after Serbia appealed for a penalty, with the stadium announcer calling for an end to “all discriminatory chants and gestures” around 15 minutes later.
“I can’t tell you the reason why and what happened exactly,” said Serbia coach Dragan Stojkovic.
“Sometimes the tensions come and some maybe bad words can create some uncomfortable behaviour, but it’s nothing special. It’s normal, le’’s say, for this kind of game.”
Vincent Aboubakar headed in a stoppage-time winner as Cameroon claimed a memorable 1-0 victory over favourites Brazil but still failed to go through to the last 16.
Coach Tite sent out a second-string side and the result was Brazil’s first defeat in the group stage of a World Cup since 1998.
On Thursday, Japan beat 2010 World Cup winners Spain to seal their place in the knockout rounds at the expense of four-time World Cup winners Germany, with the Spaniards also qualifying.
It is the second straight World Cup in which Germany have failed to go beyond the group stage, a startling fall from grace for the country that last won the title in 2014.
Their exit has put the future of coach Hansi Flick under scrutiny.
German Football Federation (DFB) president Bernd Neuendorf said there was no question of Flick being granted a “blank cheque” to continue as he announced a review of the debacle.