Japan and Korea Republic grabbed Asia’s first two tickets to the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016 in dramatic fashion after winning their respective semi-finals late on against Iraq and Qatar at the AFC U-23 Championship in Doha.
A thrilling finale to the first game saw Riki Harakawa slam home a stoppage time winner, after Saad Natiq had equalised Yuya Kubo’s opener in the first half. The second semi-final saw a similarly theatrical finale, with Kwon Changhoon and Moon Changjin scoring late on to secure the 2012 bronze medal winners’ passage after Ahmed Alaa had levelled Ryu Seungwoo’s opener.
Japan took the lead in the opening semi-final thanks to a flowing counter-attack. Musashi Suzuki burst down the Japanese left and sprinted clear of the Iraqi defence. The No9 put in an enticing ball that was duly converted by the onrushing Kubo. Iraq levelled things up late in the first half with Natiq eventually heading home after Masatoshi Kushiniki had made a valiant double-stop with the Samurai Blue failing to clear following a corner.
It was to be a show-stopping end to the opening game of the day, which had seemed destined for extra time. The ball found its way to Harakawa on the edge of the Iraqi penalty area and the No7 slammed home to secure his side’s passage to Rio de Janeiro.
Korea Republic took the lead in the second period of their semi-final after a tense opening half. Qatar goalkeeper Muhannad Naim misjudged a superbly-weighted pass and Ryu reached the ball, poking past the stranded stopper for the opener. Qatar levelled things up with 11 minutes left on the clock, after Alaa volleyed home a Musaab Al Khidir cross, and the game looked to be heading for an extra 30 minutes before more late Doha drama.
With moments remaining, Kim Hyun set Lee Seulchan free inside the Qatari penalty area and his cross was converted expertly by Kwon Changhoon to kick off wild celebrations. Moon then made sure of his side’s passage to Rio when he curled in the Taeguk Warriors’ third goal of the night.
Qatar and Iraq will face off in Friday’s match for third place to determine who will join Japan and Korea Republic with the third and final Asian spot at Rio 2016. The victorious semi-finalists will contest the AFC U-23 Championship final on Saturday.