Korea beats Saudi Arabia 1-0 for U-23 AFC title

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Korea beats Saudi Arabia 1-0 for U-23 AFC title

South Korea defeated Saudi Arabia 1-0 in extra time to capture their first Asian men’s football title in the U-23 age group on Sunday.

Defender Jeong Tae-wook headed in the winner in the 113th minute in the final of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Championship at Rajamangala National Stadium in Bangkok, breaking a deadlock after the two sides had fired blanks.

This was the fourth edition of the biennial tournament, and the first title won by South Korea, who had one runner-up finish sandwiched by a pair of fourth-place showings prior to this year.

Coached by Kim Hak-bum, South Korea won all six matches at this event - three in the group stage, followed by victories in the quarterfinals, semifinals and final - by a combined score of 10-3.

The final had an anticlimactic feel, for both contestants had already accomplished their main goal - qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

This tournament doubled as the Asian Olympic qualifying event, and the top three teams punched their tickets to Tokyo.

South Korea and Saudi Arabia got their spots sealed by reaching the final, while Australia joined them by knocking off Uzbekistan 1-0 in Saturday’s third-place match.

South Korea will be making a record ninth consecutive appearance in the Olympics. Their only medal came in the form of bronze at London 2012.

South Korea and Saudi Arabia traded few chances in the quiet - almost passive - first half.

In the 20th, South Korean winger Jeong Woo-yeong got deep into the left side of the box and rolled the ball through the legs of Saud Abdulhamid before taking a shot, only to have it kicked aside by goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Yami.

Saudi Arabia had their best opportunity about nine minutes later. Khalid Al-Ghannam stole a Jeong Tae-wook pass deep in the South Korean zone and fed the ball to Abdullah Al-Hamdan, whose shot went off defender Lee Sang-min and then hit the Saudi forward before going out of bounds.

With about four minutes before the break, Jeong had a wide open look at the net after a smart Kim Jin-ya cross, but the SC Freiburg midfielder sent the shot flying over the target.

Though it didn’t seem possible, there was even less action in the second half. But substitute South Korean midfielder Lee Dong-jun fired a left-footed shot from the center of the box that was tipped out by the diving Al-Yami in the 57th.

Abdulrahman Ghareeb launched a hard shot from the top of the box in the 87th minute that went high and wide of the net.

Not much happened in the extra time until Lee Dong-gyeong rolled a left-footed shot that forced a diving stop by Al-Yami in the 110th minute.

In the next minute, Oh Se-hun drew a foul that set up the free kick from outside the left side of the box. Lee Dong-gyeong sent a floating cross toward the goal mouth, and Jeong, the tallest player on the pitch at 194 centimeters (6 feet, 4 inches), jumped over defender Abdulbaset Al-Hindi and headed in the ball to provide the winning margin.

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