South Korea were successful in their bid to win the 2020 AFC U23 Championships, beating out stiff competition from Saudi Arabia in extra time to take the crown.
The East Asian side appear deserving winners after a set of consistently excellent and professional performances. Kim Hak-bum’s men seemed to cruise through what was surely the tournament’s toughest groups, taking seven points off China, Iran, and Uzbekistan to qualify for the quarter-finals.
They needed a remarkable free-kick in the 95th minute to take them beyond Jordan in the first knockout round before a professional performance saw them pick off Australia in the second half of their semi-final match.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, scaped through two 1-0 wins, against Thailand and Uzbekistan respectively, to seal their place in the grand final.
South Korea once again found themselves with the lion’s share of clear-cut chances, as they did in the previous rounds, and similarly failed to make it register at the back of the net.
It took 112 minutes of football to finally break the deadlock, which came thanks to a free-kick at the edge of the penalty box, almost vertical from the goal-line. As usual, Lee Dong-gyeong stood over the set-piece, whipping a fantastic cross toward the back-post, which was eventually turned in by Jeong Tae-wook.
The Daegu defender’s goal was the only thing to separate the two sides at the end of extra time, and South Korea lifted the AFC U23 Championship trophy at the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok.
With many of this generation having already reached the finals of the U20 World Cup in Poland last year, the confidence and potential continue to be sky-high. This crop of rising stars will now turn their attention to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, where they will once again be looking to make a major impression.