After three weeks of riveting action, the 2020 AFC U23 Championship officially came to a close on Sunday evening with Korea Republic deservingly crowned champions after Sunday’s 1-0 extra-time win over Saudi Arabia.
The final may have been more of a battle of attrition rather than a free-flowing spectacle although it should take nothing away from the South Koreans, who were undeniably the standout team of the tournament.
AFC U23 Championship Highlights – Korea Republic vs Saudi Arabia
On Saturday, it was Australia who prevailed 1-0 over Uzbekistan in the third-place playoff and it is them, along with Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia who will join Japan as Asia’s representatives at the 2020 Olympic Games later this year.
As expected, FOX Sports Asia’s Team of the Tournament largely comprises of players from the four semi-finalists, although a couple from Thailand and Syria managed to sneak their way onto the bench following some excellent displays earlier in the campaign.
GK: SONG BUM-KEUN (KOREA REPUBLIC)
Song Bum-keun may have an excellent defence standing in front of him, but that should not take away from the fact that he was the most assured presence between the posts throughout the competition.
Uzbekistan’s Abduvakhid Nematov and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al-Yami also caught the eye but neither were better than Song, who has spent the last two years as the No. 1 for K League 1 giants Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors despite being only 22.
RB: KHOJIAKBAR ALIJONOV (UZBEKISTAN)
Uzbekistan were ultimately unable to repeat their stunning run to the title in 2018 but plenty of them leave the tournament with enhanced reputations, including right-back Khojiakbar Alijonov.
The Pakhtakor man was excellent in carrying out his defensive duties but also never turned out an opportunity to push forward, and always offered his team an extra outlet in the final third.
CB: JEONG TAE-WOOK (KOREA REPUBLIC)
Jeong Tae-wook’s gangly stature can sometimes hide a centre-back who is very comfortable in possession but also near unbeatable in the air.
Standing at 1.95 metres, the Daegu defender looks to have forged a fine partnership with captain Lee Sang-min that could continue on to the senior national team in years to come, and he rose to the occasion when it mattered most as he headed home the winner in the 113th minute of the final.
CB: ABDULBASSIT HINDI (SAUDI ARABIA)
Like Korea Republic, Saudi Arabia also boast two excellent centre-backs that should go on to become pillars for the national team in the future in Abdulbassit Hindi and Hassan Tombakti.
While it is Tombakti who caught the eye more in specific moments, it was Hindi who displayed more consistency throughout the course of the entire tournament and that is why he just pips his partner to place in our Team of the Tournament.
LB: ALEX GERSBACH (AUSTRALIA)
On the topic of consistent displays, Alex Gersbach was the standard bearer for an Australia side who did not exactly light up the stage but showed plenty of nous and maturity to achieve the target of Olympic qualification.
Then again, that was always to be expected given Gersbach’s status as one of just two players already capped at senior level and his experience playing in Europe with Rosenborg, Lens, NAC Breda and current club AGF.
CM: KEANU BACCUS (AUSTRALIA)
It should come as no surprise that Keanu Baccus is said to be on the radar of several European outfits, and that interest should only intensify following a series of composed performances at the AFC U23 Championship.
As the deepest of the Olyroos’ central midfielders, Baccus has the most responsibility in shielding the backline but also takes it upon himself to drop deep and receive possession, where he can then initiate many an attack with his tidy distribution.
CM: WON DU-JAE (KOREA REPUBLIC)
Won Du-jae may have started Korea Republic’s campaign on the bench in their opening 1-0 win over China PR but, once he was given the nod in the starting XI, he would go on to prove indispensable.
The driving force in the engine room, Won’s ability to perform his role to perfection allowed his team-mates to grab the headlines but he was ultimately recognised – and deservingly so – by being named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
RW: JASURBEK YAKHSHIBOEV (UZBEKISTAN)
As a member of the side that went all the way in 2018, Jasurbek Yakhshiboev would have been expected to be a key player for Uzbekistan two years on but did not exactly light up the stage early on.
He was still serviceable in the group stage but it was in the knockout round onwards that the real Yakhshiboev emerged, as the livewire absolutely terrorised opposition defences and often loomed as the Uzbeks’ likeliest source of a goal.
AM: LEE DONG-GYEONG (KOREA REPUBLIC)
He might only have started one game all tournament long – the first match in fact – but, one wonders if Korea Republic would have gone on to be crowned champions were it not for the heroics of Lee Dong-gyeong from off the bench.
As the only member of the team to have been capped by the Taegeuk Warriors at senior level, Lee produced a true moment of brilliance with a stunning 95th-minute freekick to snatch a 2-1 win over Jordan in the quarter-finals, and then netted the sealer in a 2-0 triumph over Australia in the last four.
LW: ABDULRAHMAN GHAREEB (SAUDI ARABIA)
There were plenty of wide players that got fans excited in the tournament, including Australia’s Reno Piscopo, South Korean Lee Dong-jun and even Thailand’s 17-year-old wonderkid Suphanat Mueanta.
Still, considering he was the one player with genuine star quality in a side that reached the final, Abdulrahman Ghareeb has to be recognised for impressing overall in the competition even he was hampered by inconsistency.
ST: OH SE-HUN (KOREA REPUBLIC)
With his 1.93-metre frame, it may be easy to dismiss Oh Se-hun as a typical target man who can be cumbersome when he is done challenging in the air.
The reality is however a far different story and Oh arguably does his best work once the ball hits the ground, showing nimble feet when taking on opponents and contributing well in the build-up while also boasting a killer eye for goal.
Coach: KIM HAK-BUM (KOREA REPUBLIC)
As always, there were several pre-tournament favourites flagged in the build-up to the competition and Korea Republic would have been one of them.
But once the group stage was complete, it was evident that Korea Republic were the standout side and fittingly went on to win it, with Kim Hak-bum deserving plenty of credit for guiding his side to six consecutive victories while also rotating his players to give as many of them valuable experience.
Goalkeeper: Abduvakhid Nematov (Uzbekistan)
Centre-back: Fares Al-Arnaout (Syria)
Full-back: Saud Abdulhamid (Saudi Arabia)
Central midfield: Abdulla Abdullaev (Uzbekistan)
Attacking midfield: Oybek Bozorov (Uzbekistan)
Winger: Suphanat Mueanta (Thailand)
Striker: Nicholas D’Agostino (Australia)