S. Korea clinches record 8th straight Olympic soccer berth

January 26, 2016
South Korean midfielder Ryu Seung-woo (R) celebrates his goal against Qatar in the semifinals of the Asian Football Confederation U-23 Championship in Doha on Jan 26, 2016. (Yonhap)

South Korean midfielder Ryu Seung-woo (R) celebrates his goal against Qatar in the semifinals of the Asian Football Confederation U-23 Championship in Doha on Jan 26, 2016. (Yonhap)

UPDATED (Yonhap) — South Korea clinched a record eighth straight Olympic men’s football berth on Tuesday with a 3-1 victory over Qatar at the Asian qualification tournament.

Midfielder Kwon Chang-hoon broke the 1-1 tie in the 89th minute at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha to lift South Korea to the final of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Championship and give the country one of three Asian berths at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Moon Chang-jin put the icing on the cake to make it 3-1 moments before the final whistle.

This championship doubles as the Asian qualification event for the Olympics. Only the top three countries from here will compete in Brazil, and South Korea will now finish no worse than second.

They will take on Japan in Saturday’s final, also in Doha. Qatar have been relegated to the third-place match against Iraq for their one last chance at qualifying for the Olympics.

No other country has competed in eight straight Olympic men’s football tournaments. Italy qualified for seven Olympics in a row on two separate occasions, most recently from 1984 to 2008.

After a tightly contested first half, during which neither side got off a dangerous shot, South Korea broke the scoreless deadlock just three minutes into the second half.

Hwang Ki-wook lofted a pass from midfield for winger Ryu Seung-woo, and goalkeeper Muhannad Naim charged out of his box to meet the ball. Ryu got to it first and flicked the ball past Naim, leaving the Qatari custodian to helplessly watch it roll into the open net.

South Korea upped the pressure and nearly doubled the lead with Kim Hyun’s shot in the 56th that forced Naim to make a diving save. Just past the hour mark, Ryu set up Moon Chang-jin for a shot that rolled into Naim, while Lee Chang-min, only moments later, curled one just wide of the left post from the right edge of the box.

Qatar tried to fight back. South Korean goalkeeper Kim Dong-jun was tested for the first time in the 64th as he turned aside Ali Assadalla’s header from point-blank range.

The match turned even more frenetic. Kim Hyun’s attempt in the 69th went off defender Abdelkarim Hassan’s leg before Naim made the save. On the other end, Ahmed Alaa fired one wide from a sharp angle on the right side on a breakaway in the 74th.

Alaa wouldn’t be denied again five minutes later. With Ryu momentarily off the field with a leg cramp, Alaa tied the score with a nifty volley off a Musaab Khidir cross for his tournament-leading fifth goal. Kim Dong-jun only got a piece of the shot as it rolled underneath his body across the goal line.

Kim stood his ground in the 84th minute, making a match-saving stop on Akram Afif after a mad scramble.

Though the match seemed destined for extra time, South Korea had other ideas. Right back Lee Seul-chan was all alone as he took a pass deep in the Qatari box, and he set up Kwon for a deft redirection past the diving Naim.

It was Kwon’s team-high fourth goal of the tournament. Then with the clock ticking down, Moon Chang-jin matched Kwon’s total to round out the scoring.

Aside from South Korea and Japan, 12 countries have already secured their Rio berths: host Brazil, Argentina, Denmark, Germany, Portugal, Sweden, Fiji, Honduras, Mexico, Algeria, Nigeria and South Africa.

The winner of Qatar-Iraq showdown in the third-place match here will join these countries. Colombia and the United States will clash in the CONCACAF (North, Central America and Caribbean)-CONMEBOL (South America) playoff in March for the one last spot.