Korea clinch 8th straight Olympic football berth

Korea clinch 8th straight Olympic football berth

South Korea clinched a record eighth straight Olympic men’s football berth on Tuesday with a 3-1 victory over Qatar at the Asian qualification tournament.

Midfielder Kwon Chang-hoon broke the 1-1 tie in the 89th minute at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha to lift South Korea to the final of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Championship and give the country one of three Asian berths at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Moon Chang-jin put the icing on the cake to make it 3-1 moments before the final whistle.

This championship doubles as the Asian qualification event for the Olympics. Only the top three countries from here will compete in Brazil, and South Korea will now finish no worse than second.

They will take on Japan in Saturday’s final, also in Doha.

Qatar have been relegated to the third-place match against Iraq for their one last chance at qualifying for the Olympics.

No other country has competed in eight straight Olympic men’s football tournaments. Italy qualified for seven Olympics in a row on two separate occasions, most recently from 1984 to 2008.

After a tightly contested first half, during which neither side got off a dangerous shot, South Korea broke the scoreless deadlock just three minutes into the second half.

Hwang Ki-wook lofted a pass from midfield for winger Ryu Seung-woo, and goalkeeper Muhannad Naim charged out of his box to meet the ball. Ryu got to it first and flicked the ball past Naim, leaving the Qatari custodian to helplessly watch it roll into the open net.

South Korea upped the pressure and nearly doubled the lead with Kim Hyun’s shot in the 56th that forced Naim to make a diving save.

Just past the hour mark, Ryu set up Moon for a shot that rolled into Naim, while Lee Chang-min, only moments later, curled one just wide of the left post from the right edge of the box.

Qatar tried to fight back. South Korean goalkeeper Kim Dong-jun was tested for the first time in the 64th as he turned aside Ali Assadalla’s header from point-blank range.

The match turned even more frenetic. Kim Hyun’s attempt in the 69th went off defender Abdelkarim Hassan’s leg before Naim made the save. On the other end, Ahmed Alaa fired one wide from a sharp angle on the right side on a breakaway in the 74th.

Alaa wouldn’t be denied again five minutes later. With Ryu momentarily off the field with a leg cramp, Alaa tied the score with a nifty volley off a Musaab Khidir cross for his tournament-leading fifth goal. Kim Dong-jun only got a piece of the shot as it rolled underneath his body across the goal line.

Kim stood his ground in the 84th minute, making a match-saving stop on Akram Afif after a mad scramble.

Though the match seemed destined for extra time, South Korea had other ideas. Right back Lee Seul-chan was all alone as he took a pass deep in the Qatari box, and he set up Kwon for a deft redirection past the diving Naim.

It was Kwon’s team-high fourth goal of the tournament. Then with the clock ticking down, Moon matched Kwon’s total to round out the scoring.

South Korean head coach Shin Tae-yong said afterward he felt the match could be slipping out of his hands when Qatar scored the equalizer, and felt fortunate that the opponents failed to convert ensuing chances to take the lead.

He also thanked his two second-half subs, Hwang Hee-chan and Moon, for delivering the goods in their limited action. Hwang, who’d suffered an ankle injury in the quarterfinals against Jordan, was back to his usual, efficient self on offense, setting up chances with unselfish play. Moon was the beneficiary for South Korea’s final goal.

“I said yesterday they should play the hero against Qatar, and that I’d put them in the match around 30 minutes into the second half,” Shin said. “And I told them the same things before the match today. I am grateful that they came through for us.”

Aside from South Korea and Japan, 12 countries have already secured their Rio berths: host Brazil, Argentina, Denmark, Germany, Portugal, Sweden, Fiji, Honduras, Mexico, Algeria, Nigeria and South Africa.

The winner of Qatar-Iraq showdown in the third-place match here will join these countries. Colombia and the United States will clash in the CONCACAF (North, Central America and Caribbean)-CONMEBOL (South America) playoff in March for the one last spot.

The Olympic tournament is limited to players under age 23, though each country is allowed to carry up to three overage players as “wild cards.”

South Korea won the bronze medal at the last Summer Games in London in 2012. It was the country’s first Olympic medal in football, men’s or women’s.

Shin said he’d been unaware of the historic significance of qualifying for the eighth straight Olympics until he arrived in Doha.

“I wasn’t thinking much about the past, whether it was winning the bronze in London or having played in the past seven Olympics,”

Shin said. “I didn’t want the team to feel the pressure. Now, we’ll start looking forward to Rio and thinking about winning a medal there.”

Source: http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20160127000189

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