U-23 side beat Thailand to top group, advance to quarterfinals
Korea beat Thailand 1-0 to finish at the top of Group C at the 2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup on Wednesday, advancing to the knockout stage to face either Japan or Saudi Arabia in the quarterfinals on Sunday.
Going into Wednesday's match, Korea and Thailand were tied at the top of Group C on four points each with Vietnam trailing on two points and Malaysia on zero. That left the tournament on the line for reigning champions Korea and Thailand, with the winning team guaranteed to top the group and the losing team likely to fall behind a victorious Vietnam.
That's exactly what happened, with Korea's one point taking the young Taeguk Warriors into first place with seven points, followed by Vietnam with five points after a 2-0 win over Malaysia. Still stuck on four points, Thailand is eliminated from the competition along with last place Malaysia.
Korea were on the offensive from the whistle at Pakhtakor Stadium in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, with Thai goalkeeper Napphon Lakhonphon called upon a number of times within the first 15 minutes.
Midfielder Go Jae-hyeon of Daegu FC scored the only goal of the game for Korea and that nearly didn't happen, with the linesman initially signaling that the goal was offside. A VAR review ruled in Go's favor to put Korea ahead at the 35th-minute mark.
Go, along with Cho Young-wook of FC Seoul and Oh Se-hun of Japanese club Shimizu S-Pulse, continued to hammer on the door throughout the first half, but a combination of near misses and Napphon's best efforts stop the trio from getting anything across.
Korea continued to dominate in the second half, with Real Mallorca's Lee Kang-in also getting involved on the attack, but Napphon managed to hold the score at 1-0. The Korean defense proved able to shut down anything that Thailand to throw at them, with goalie Goh Dong-min stepping in occasionally when things got a bit too close for comfort.
With the win, Korea advance to the quarterfinals as the top team from Group C, where they will face the runner-up from Group D: as of press time, either Saudi Arabia or Japan.
With one more game still to be played on Thursday evening, Saudi Arabia and Japan are currently tied on four points with the Saudi Arabia topping the group on goal difference. Both countries are likely to win their final games on Thursday — Japan against Tajikistan and Saudi Arabia against the United Arab Emirates — but Japan will likely need to score at least five goals to be in with a chance of taking first place.
Elsewhere in the bracket, Australia face Turkmenistan in the first quarterfinal on Saturday, with Uzbekistan taking on Iraq later that day. Following the Korea quarterfinal on Sunday, Vietnam will face the winner of Group D.
Korea are undefeated in the tournament so far, having beaten Malaysia 4-1 in their opening game on June 2 and then had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Vietnam in the second game on June 5.
Korea has finished within the top four at every single AFC U-23 Asian Cup since the tournament was founded in 2013. That year, Korea finished fourth after losing to Jordan on penalties in the third-place playoff.
In 2016, Korea lost 3-2 to Japan in the final to finish in second place, before again slipping back to fourth in 2018 when they dropped the third-place playoff to Qatar, 1-0. In 2020, Korea shot through the entire tournament without dropping a single game, beating Saudi Arabia 1-0 in the final to take the Asian Cup.
Korea will take on either Japan or Saudi Arabia at Pakhtakor Stadium at 6 p.m. on Sunday, or at 10 p.m. in Korea.
BY JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]