As the year draws to a close, it looks set to leave a long list of unforgettable memories in its wake. For the young talents who shone at the AFC U-19 Championship in November, the mission now will be to build on their cherished memories as they target success at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013.
Asia will boast four representatives at the global gathering, with Korea Republic, Iraq, Australia and Uzbekistan having booked their progress despite stern opposition in the final rounds of the continental showcase. The quartet are now preparing for their campaigns on Turkish soil, where all will be hoping for big things from the burgeoning stars who offered a glimpse of their ability in the United Arab Emirates.
FIFA.com takes a closer look at the gifted prodigies who turned heads at the AFC U-19 Championship and who will be keen to impress again in Turkey next summer.
Korea Republic won their 12th continental U-19 title in the UAE and their first in eight years, reclaiming the crown they last secured in 2004. Their triumph was anything but a foregone conclusion, though, and it took Moon Changjin's last-gasp equaliser against Iraq in the final to take the match into extra time before they prevailed on penalties.
Their saviour in that game, the Korea Republic's No10, fully lived up to his promise throughout the tournament, spearheading his team's attack and finding the back of the net on four occasions. The Pohang Steelers youngster opened his account with the winner against China PR in the group stage and followed up with goals in the 4-1 quarter-final defeat of Iran and the 3-1 win against Uzbekistan in the last four, not forgetting his leveller in the showpiece.
Team captain Lee Changgeun was another vital presence for the eventual winners, proving the importance of an excellent goalkeeper in the pursuit of silverware. The young custodian kept clean sheets against China PR and Iraq during the group stage and conceded just once per knockout round to keep his side on track for success. It was during the penalty shoot-out that he came into his own, using all his skill to deny Mohanad Karrar's attempt – although it was the Iraqi forward who went on to be named player of the tournament.
Following in famous footsteps
As for Iraq, they may have missed out on a sixth AFC U-19 Championship crown and their first in 12 years, but they could console themselves with a ticket to the FIFA U-20 World Cup for the first time since 2001.
The Lions of Mesopotamia made a sparkling impression on the continental stage, thanks in large part to four-goal Mohanad Karrar, whose talent called to mind current senior Iraqi international Younis Mahmoud. Karrar caught the attention of everyone who saw him play and there was little argument when he left with the best player award. Not that he will let his raised profile get to his head, though. The jewel in the Iraq side was quick to dedicate the honour to his team-mates, and Iraqi supporters ought to be optimistic that their forward line is in safe hands for many years to come.
Meanwhile, captain and goalkeeper Mohammed Hameed Farhan performed with real aplomb between the posts. He kept out two penalties during the quarter-final against Japan and repeated the feat against Australia next time out, shipping just three goals in six matches overall. Bitterly disappointed after the final loss to Korea Republic, Hameed left the pitch in tears, but he was delighted to have helped his team reach Turkey 2013 and looks a worthy successor to much-revered predecessors Raad Hammoudi, Ahmed Jassim, Hashim Imad and Nour Sabri.
Uzbekistan's attacking edge
Having previously taken part in the festivities in 2003 and 2009, Uzbekistan will be back for their third edition of the FIFA U-20 World Cup at Turkey 2013. They owe their place in large part to striker Igor Sergeev, who was simply unstoppable in the UAE, scoring against every side he faced. When the dust had settled, the forward had seven goals to his name, scoring twice against both Jordan and Vietnam, and once against Korea DPR, quarter-final rivals Syria and semi-final conquerors Korea Republic.
Those efforts brought Sergeev the adidas Golden Boot as tournament top scorer and the fulsome praise of his coach, who predicts a bright future for the prolific youngster. Sergeev took a considerable stride towards stardom in the Emirates, but he must hit the same heights in Turkey if he is to join the ranks of Uzbekistan's finest ever players.
Socceroos showing their teeth
Corey Gameiro proved that kangaroos can bite as well as jump with his displays during the competition, making the penalty box his own as he plundered all six of Australia's goals. His finishing prowess allowed the Socceroos to take all three points against Qatar and record draws with Saudi Arabia and Syria during the group phase, before his hat-trick powered them past Jordan in the quarter-finals and sealed their place at Turkey 2013. Gameiro may have missed a penalty against Iraq in the last four, but it would have taken much more than that to put his prodigious ability in doubt.
The education he has enjoyed at Fulham no doubt served him well en route to finishing second in the scoring charts, but the young forward was quick to emphasise how Australia's main asset in Turkey will be their collective strength. Not for the first time, therefore, the Socceroos will look to their team spirit and understanding as they aim to reach at least the quarter-finals, as in 2003, or even the semi-finals, as in 1991 and 1993.