- Saudi Arabia crowned AFC U-19 champions
- Korea Republic advanced to final for record 17th time
- Japan and Qatar also sealed spots at Poland 2019
Asia's qualifying competition for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019 came to a close on Sunday, with Saudi Arabia edging past Korea Republic 2-1 in Cibinong, Indonesia to claim their third continental title.
The Saudis maintained an unblemished record heading in to the final, including a 3-1 win over Australia in the quarter-final clash which sealed their passage to Poland. Korea Republic also went unbeaten en route to the final. They got past a resilient Tajikistan side in the last-eight to book their place at next year's global showpiece.
Elsewhere, AFC U-19 Championship holders Japan started the tournament with three wins in a row before downing hosts Indonesia 2-0 to complete their qualifying mission. Despite losing narrowly to the United Arab Emirates 2-1 in the opener, Qatar bounced back to win their next three outings as they sealed their return to the U-20 World Cup.
Qualified teams: Japan, Korea Republic, Qatar and Saudi Arabia
While both Korea Republic and Qatar had to overcome slow starts respectively to progress, Saudi Arabia proved to be the most consistent performers throughout the tournament. Even more impressive was the fact that they improved game after game, starting with narrow wins against Malaysia and China PR before outmuscling Australia in the all-important last-eight meeting. Having secured their place at Poland 2019, they went on to get past holders Japan 2-0 before sinking Korea Republic in the ultimate game.
Double tasks for Abe
It is no secret that Hiroki Abe is a valued asset for both club and country despite his tender age. And the young attacker's importance was evident during the AFC U-19 Championship when he, having helped Japan seal a place at Poland 2019, was allowed to return home earlier for his club duties in the ongoing AFC Champions League campaign. Japan went on to lose to Saudi Arabia 2-0 in the semi-final clash in Abe's absence, but the player started for Kashima Antlers in the AFC Champions League final first leg, where they saw off Persepolis 2-0 at home.
Qatar finished as the tournament's top scorers with 19 goals in five matches, averaging nearly four goals per game. Catching the most attention was none other than Abdulrasheed Umaru, who finished as the tournament's top-scorer with seven goals. Notably, he completed a hat-trick as Qatar overcame hosts Indonesia in a pulsating 6-5 thriller, before striking a brace in their 7-3 rout of Thailand in the quarter-final encounter which sealed their passage to the U-20 World Cup.
Suwon Bluewings midfielder Jeon Sejin emerged as Korea Republic's biggest revelation this campaign. The 19-year-old finished as the team's top scorer with five goals, including twice smashing home in their 3-1 semi-final victory against Qatar. Even in their final loss to Saudi Arabia, the Korea Republic No7 posed the biggest threat for his opponents with his pacy attacks and dangerous passes, including earning a penalty for his side to reduce the deficit.
17 - Despite losing the final, Korea Republic remain as the most successful side in AFC U-19 Championship history, having reached the final on 17 occasions, lifting the trophy 12 times.
Tournament MVP: Turki Al-Ammar (Saudi Arabia)
What they said
"We certainly learned something (against Korea Republic) as when your opponents are at such a good level. You cannot be afraid to manage the rhythm of the game, not be afraid to press the ball. I do not like to ‘park the bus’, I like to attack and that is our style. I believe we have learned a good lesson for the World Cup.”
Qatar head coach Bruno Pinheiro
"Now we are in next year's World Cup, but we should be much stronger then [if we are to compete against the world's best]. We have six months to prepare for the World Cup in Poland. Each player should be stronger, and the team must be much stronger.”
Japan head coach Masanaga Kageyama