Zibo: Jong Il-gwan scored a hat-trick as DPR Korea edged a thrilling AFC U-19 Championship final against Australia 3-2 at Zibo Sports Centre Stadium on Sunday for their second title in four years.
In what was a fine advertisement for Asian youth football, Jong (pictured) grabbed his first of the night early in the first half before the balance of play swung in Australia’s favour as Kerem Bulut scored twice in four minutes.
However, the Koreans equalised just before the break through Jong and the striker – comfortably the star performer of the night – grabbed the winner shortly before full time with an instinctive strike following a mistake by Australia keeper Mark Birighitti.
DPR Korea’s impressive performance at the tournament has been built on a solid defence that had been breached just once prior to the game and they ensured Australia had their work cut out by taking the lead in the 10th minute.
Jong picked up the ball just outside the area before embarking on a mazy run through the Young Socceroos’ defence, dodging the legs of defenders before hitting a low shot beyond Birighitti.
Australia had a golden chance to level matters just eight minutes later though when DPR Korea goalkeeper Om Jin-song punched a cross straight at skipper Ben Kantarovski but his shot struck a defender.
They were not to be denied in the 25th minute, however, when a cross was whipped in from the left and striker Bulut directed a powerful header beyond the reach of Om and into the bottom right corner of the goal.
It got even better for the Australians when they took the lead just four minutes later. FC Utrecht’s Tommy Oar danced his way through the DPR Korea defence and though his shot was initially denied by Om, the ball fell kindly to Bulut who side-footed home for his seventh goal of the tournament.
The twists and turns of the first half continued though as DPR Korea equalised two minutes before the break when Jong knocked the ball beyond Daniel Bowles to give himself a free run on goal and although his powerful low drive struck a defender, the ball ballooned over a hapless Birighitti and into the back of the net.
After such an enthralling first 45 minutes it was no surprise that the second half got underway at a much slower pace and for first 15 minutes play was largely contested in midfield.
Pak Song-chol dragged a shot wide for DPR Korea after 62 minutes before Australia’s Mustafa Amini rifled a shot the wrong side of the left post soon after but those were two of very few chances as the game seemed destined for extra time.
But a howler from Birighitti gifted DPR Korea the winner two minutes from time when he fumbled a harmless-looking cross and the ball fell at the feet of Jong, who superbly lifted a shot over retreating defenders and into the net.