Korea DPR outlasted Australia 3-2 on Sunday in the final to the 2010 AFC U-19 Champions to take their third Asian title. The Young Chollima first emerged victors on the continental stage in 1976 before reigning supreme four years ago at India 2006. Both Korea DPR and Australia, plus the two losing semi-finalists, Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia, each secured a berth to the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup which commences next July in Colombia.
The game at the Chinese city of Zibo proved a fitting finale with the two contestants also yielding the top individual awards. First to shine was Australia’s phenomenal goalscorer Kerem Bulut, who netted twice in a space of five minutes midway during the opening half to put his side ahead. However, it was his rival Jong Il-Gwan who proved the night’s true star, with the North Korean No16 single-handedly firing his team to the crown.
Jong opened the scoring for Young Chollima after ten minutes and although Australia quickly went in front courtesy of Bulut’s two goals, the Korean struck just before the break to draw them level, before capitalising on a goalkeeping error by Mark Birighitti to grab the match and tournament-winning goal two minutes from time. With five goals garnished in as many games, the 18-year-old Rimyongsu forward plucked the tournament's Most Valued Player award while Bulut was crowned top-scorer with his brace taking his tally to seven.
Korea DPR’s performances were marked by solid defence and lethal counter-attacking spearheaded by Jong. En route to the final they had conceded just a single goal across five matches including two impressive 2-0 triumphs over hosts China in the crucial quarter-final clash and against Korea Republic in the semi-final. “Our players played well throughout the competition as a team and they ran hard until the final whistle,” stated Korea DPR coach Yun Jong-Su. “Jong played very well in the final. He may graduate into the national senior side if he keeps working hard.”
Despite losing in heart-breaking fashion, there is still plenty for the Young Socceroos to brag about having made sustained progress under Jan Versleijen during the past two years. Appointed in 2008, the Dutch boss took Australia to fourth place in the previous edition of the continental championship to book their place in last year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in Egypt. “There was an element of luck in Korea DPR’s third goal and we were unlucky,” he said. “But this is a good learning experience for the players as we now look towards our next challenge at the FIFA competition next year.”
Both Korea DPR and Australia deserved their places in the final taking into account the way they booked qualification for Columbia 2011. Finishing in their group second behind Uzbekistan, the North Koreans were pitted against China in the last-eight meeting but despite the daunting task against the hosts, the visitors looked unstoppable with Jong breaking the deadlock shortly after interval before Pak Song-Chol scored the goal that ensured their progression to the world stage. Australia, for their part, finished atop a tough group ahead of the likes of Korea Republic and Iran to set up the quarter-final meeting with the United Arab Emirates, where Versleijen’s charges prevailed with a breath-taking 4-2 extra-time victory.
Completing the quartet of Asian representatives at next year’s global showpiece are Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia, who each held their nerve to prevail over Japan and Uzbekistan for hard-fought quarter-final wins. The South Koreans battled from two goals down to undo Japan 3-2 with goals from Kim Kyung-Jung, Hwang Do-Yeo and Jung Seung-Yong, while the Saudis were indebted to Fahad Al Johani who scored the winner against the Uzbeks in extra time for a 2-1 win.
Elsewhere, China’s impressive results in the early stage flattered to deceive with the home side again bowing out at the quarter-final stage having lost to Uzbekistan in the same knockout stage two years ago. So far, the 1985 winners have now failed to progress to the FIFA competition across three consecutive cycles with their last appearance coming at Netherlands 2005. Perhaps even more disappointing were the defending champions United Arab Emirates, who agonisingly found themselves eliminated after an extra-time battle against Australia, despite boasting the 2008 AFC Young Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil who scored six times in as many matches.