South Korea won their first title at the 2020 AFC Men’s U23 Championship. The event was also the Olympic qualifier for the region where 16 teams competed in four groups of four teams with the top two advancing to the quarter-finals. In total, the top three obtained quotas to compete at the Olympics. The AFC Men’s U23 Championship was held across four cities in Thailand from January 8th to January 26th 2020.
With the exception of Thailand’s 5-0 victory over Bahrain during the opening day, very little differentiated the teams of Group A. Four out of the six matches ended in draws with Australia’s 2-1 win over Thailand being the only other match to end in a victory. The group was won by Australia whom finished with 5 points while host nation Thailand advanced in second place. Third place was Iraq who had three consecutive draws while Bahrain finished in fourth.
While already qualified to the Olympics as the host nation, Japan had the unfortunate title of being the first team eliminated at this championship as they would go on to finish last in Group B with a single point. The group ultimately came down to Saudi Arabia and Syria, though Qatar also had a chance to win the group should results go their way. An 80th minute goal by Saudi Arabia’s Firas Al-Buraikan gave the nation the 1-0 victory to win the group. Despite losing, Syria also advanced to the next round due to Qatar only achieving a draw against Japan during their final group game.
The only team to achieve three victories during the group stage was South Korea as they won Group C as they finished with the maximum of nine points. Defending AFC champions, Uzbekistan finished second due to having a better goal differential than Iran as the two nations drew 1-1 during their opening game. China finished last in the group as they lost all three of their games.
Very little separated the teams in Group D as Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam all had an opportunity to win the group. Sadly, for Vietnam, they lost to North Korea 2-1 during their final group game meaning not only did they not advance, but they finished last within the group. The match between Jordan and the United Arab Emirates ended in a 1-1 draw and with both teams level on points the goal differential battle was won by the United Arab Emirates who had a +2 differential while Jordan had a +1.
Three out of the four quarter-finals were decided by a single goal. Saudi Arabia defeated Thailand 1-0 thanks to a 78th minute penalty kick by Abdullah Al-Hamdan. The Australia/Syria match had to go to extra time as both nations were level at zero. It took until the 101st minute before Australia’s Al Hassan Toure broke the deadlock. A goal in deep stoppage time by South Korea’s Lee Dong-gyeong gave his nation the 2-1 victory over Jordan. The final team to advance to the semi-finals was Uzbekistan who scored five goals on route to a 5-1 win over the United Arab Emirates.
For the second game in a row Abdullah Al-Hamdan played hero by scoring the 87th minute goal to send Saudi Arabia to their second ever finals in a 1-0 victory over Uzbekistan. Meeting them in the final was South Korea who scored two second half goals to defeat Australia. By winning their semi-final matches both nations have qualified a team to compete at the Olympics.
The final team to qualify to the Olympics was decided during the bronze medal match. After a scoreless first half, Australia broke the deadlock during the 47th minute where Nicholas D’Agostino scored to send his nation to the Olympics with a 1-0 win over Uzbekistan. The final went the distance as 90 minutes solved nothing. During extra time, a 114th minute goal by Jeong Tae-wook gave South Korea the 1-0 victory to win the AFC Men’s U23 Championship.
This was the final opportunity for nations in AFC to qualify to the Olympics in the men’s tournament. The next continent to decide their Olympic qualifier will be CONMEBOL, currently being held in Colombia.