Korea Republic's never-say-die spirit was displayed well by their youth side, who edged out an impressive Iraq on penalties at Ras Al Khaimah in UAE in Saturday's AFC U-19 Championship final to recapture their continental crown.
In a rematch of their goalless draw during the group phase, five-time winners Iraq went ahead through leading goalscorer Mohanad Abdulraheem ten minutes before the break. The Koreans, though, drew themselves level in stunning fashion, with playmaker Moon Changjin on target deep into added time to force extra time, during which no goals were scored.
In the subsequent penalty shoot-out, all four Korean players made no mistake from the spot while only Ahmed Abbas Hattab blasted home for Iraq as the East Asians prevailed 4-1 to clinch the title for a record 12th time.
"Today's match was very difficult, but all of my players gave their best effort," said a relieved Korea Republic coach Lee Kwangjong, whose side scored only three goals during the group campaign, but exploded to life in the knockout rounds with a 4-1 demolition of Iran and a 3-1 defeat of Uzbekistan to set up the final rematch with Iraq.
"Our rivals were the better side today and I must concede that we were very lucky when we scored our very late equaliser," Lee added.
Despite the loss, Hakim Shakir's Iraq could return home with heads held high, after turning in a series of outstanding displays that earned them the tag as tournament surprise packages. After winning a group which also featured Thailand and China PR, they saw off Japan 2-1, before outmuscling Australia 2-0 to book their first final place since 2000.
"There are plenty of good signs," Shakir said. "This generation of players has a bright future ahead. Now we go back to Iraq and start our preparations for the World Cup."
Progressive Australia, Uzbekistan
With the competition also serving as the qualifier for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013, even losing semi-finalists Australia and Uzbekistan finished the campaign in celebratory mood after securing their passages to the global showpiece alongside Korea Republic and Iraq.
The Young Socceroos proved their efficiency as they finished top of their group with just three goals scored in as many games - the least of all four teams. Paul Okon's side were organised and resolute in defence as they pulled off a 1-0 win over Qatar, before drawing with both Syria and Saudi Arabia to reach the last eight. A convincing 3-0 triumph over Jordan sealed their third global appearance.
The Central Asians, for their part, won a group featuring defending champions Korea DPR, Jordan and Vietnam to storm into the quarter-finals, where they overcame a resilient Syria on penalties to seal their place at Turkey 2013.
Since its inauguration back in 1959, the championship has provided the perfect setting for Asia's young talent to emerge and shine. And the 37th edition proved to be no exception, with a wealth of fresh gems unearthed.
All top four sides in particular were indebted to their top players, who set the continental stage ablaze with starring performances. Notably, Pohang Steeler's Changjin scored four times, including netting the equaliser in the final, while team-mate Kang Sangwoo excelled in his goalscoring role with a pair of strikes against Uzbekistan.
Even more impressive was Uzbek striker Igor Sergeev, who managed to score in each of their five games, including completing two braces as he finished as the tournament top scorer with seven goals. And in a sense Australia's Corey Gameiro single-handedly steered his side through by bagging all six of the team's goals.
Catching the greatest attention, of course, was tournament top player Abdulraheem, whose opener against Korea Republic extended his tally to five. "I am pretty confident that we will give a good account of ourselves in next year's World Cup," the teenager stated. "We are determined to represent Asia positively and show the world the football we play back in Iraq."