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Saudi Arabia emerge champions

Bogor: Saudi Arabia claimed the AFC U-19 Championship Indonesia 2018 title on Sunday thanks to a hard-fought 2-1 win over Korea Republic.

A scintillating first half display, with the talismanic Turki Al Ammar to the fore, proved the difference at Bogor’s Pakansari Stadium, as the Saudis sealed their third title success at this level, and their first since 1992.

Both sides, along with beaten semi-finalists Qatar and Japan, will now go on to represent the Asian Football Confederation at next year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland.

On a night of high drama, it took Saudi Arabia less than two minutes to break the deadlock, Al Ammar firing home after Korea Republic goalkeeper Lee Gwang-yeon had done well to save Abdulmohsen Al Qahtani’s initial shot.

With Saudi Arabia sensing a second, Lee Gwang-yeon smothered Hassan Al Tambakti’s header from Khalid Al Ghannam’s corner on the line, before excelling once again to divert Al Ammar’s firm strike behind for a corner in the 12th minute.

Korea Republic responded through Go Jae-Hyeon’s strike which Abdulrahman Al Shammari parried to the feet of Um Won-Sang who could only drill the rebound over the bar.

It was, though, to prove a false dawn for the Koreans as a rampant Saudi Arabia extended their lead on 22 minutes, this time Al Ghannam sending a delightful shot over Lee Gwang-yeon from distance much to the delight of their supporters.

Midfielder Hamed Alghamdi then forced Lee Gwang-yeon into another fine stop, only for Cho Young-wook to fizz a shot inches past the post as Korea Republic valiantly searched for a way back into the match.

After seeing Al Ghannam’s curling effort go agonisingly wide, and in the last genuine chance of a pulsating first half, Kim Hyun-woo headed Goo Boon-cheul’s whipped free-kick narrowly off target to leave Saudi Arabia in the ascendancy ahead of the second period.

In a bright start to the second period, another Kim Hyun-woo headed attempt only just landed on the wrong side of Al Shammari’s right-hand upright, before Al Ammar struck a post with a scuffed shot from 14 yards on 48 minutes.

With their need clearly the greater, Korea Republic continued to prod and probe, and they reduced the deficit in the 64th minute, Cho calmly despatching a penalty after Jeon Se-jin had been upended in the area by Muhannad Al Shanqiti.

Clearly buoyed by the goal, Korea Republic work tirelessly to find an equaliser, Lee Jae-ik’s rampaging run and cross narrowly failing to find a teammate, and Cho forcing Al Shammari into a diving save with less than quarter of an hour remaining.

As the tension showed no sign of subsiding, a sliding Jeon could, and very possibly should, have restored parity moments later when he steered his attempt at the far post wide of the target following Um’s pinpoint delivery.

It was not to be for Korea Republic though as Saudi Arabia duly held on to claim the continental crown and spark wild celebrations.

Photos: AFC