Nay Pyi Taw: Goals from Jo Kwang-myong and Kim Yu-song took three-times champions DPR Korea through to the quarter-finals of the AFC U-19 Championship at the expense of 2012 finalists Iraq, who were downed 2-1 by the East Asians in the Group D finale on Tuesday.
Although Iraq needed just a point from the game at Wunna Theikdi Stadium to advance to the knockout stages, they were rocked by Jo's 50th minute opener, an advantage which was then doubled by strike-partner So 11 minutes later, and it was a deficit that proved too difficult to overcome for the five-time champions despite Alaa Mhawi's late stoppage-time goal.
The Koreans' reward as group runners-up will be a meeting with Japan in Friday's quarter-final in Nay Pyi Taw, while Group D winners Qatar, having defeated Oman 2-0 in Yangon in the day's other game, will now face Group C runners-up China.
"There was no way out for us today, we had to win, there was no other option, so that's why the players were so mentally strong today," said DPR Korea coach An Ye-gun, who was relieved to see his squad finally over the travel fatigue from travelling from Pyeongyang to Nay Pyi Taw.
"This was a match also about physical conditioning. Today I could finally see that the players were recovered from their travel tiredness, and I could see during the match that Iraq's players were not physically in good shape for this game – that's why we could win."
With DPR Korea requiring all three points the young Chollima were on the offensive in the opening quarter of an hour, albeit without truly testing Iraq goalkeeper Hayder Al Abedi.
Instead, the first meaningful action came at the other end on 16 minutes as Cha Jong-hun had to be alert to fist away Bashar Resan's 16th minute free-kick with Emad Mohsin lurking dangerously on the off-chance of a fumble by the DPR Korea custodian.
And with Iraq's best moments coming from set-pieces, Mohammed Khalid than floated an in-swinging free-kick over the crossbar six minutes later before Resan's second dead-ball effort of the afternoon shortly after the half-hour mark whistled narrowly wide of the left-hand upright.
But following the interval, the game just needed five minutes to have the deadlock broken as from Kim's cut-back from the right flank, Jo found himself with both time and space by the penalty spot to drive a low shot past Al Abedi for his second goal in two games.
It got even worse for the West Asians two minutes past the hour-mark, as once again haphazard defending saw Kim latch on to Ri Un-chol pass and this time the provider turned finisher as he coolly placed the ball into the bottom left-hand corner to leave Iraq with a mountain to climb.
Resan then had a golden opportunity to reduce the deficit, but after slaloming through the Korean backline his initial shot from close-range was blocked, before he lifted the follow-up high over the crossbar from less than six yards out.
Iraq did pull a goal back deep into added time through Alaa Mhawi but it was too little, too late and with their 2012 final opponents Korea Republic also being eliminated yesterday, the tournament will have a brand new pairing in this year's championship climax.
"Although I intended to change the team, I saw that the other players yesterday were not ready for the game, so I started the same 10 players I have used throughout the tournament," said Iraq coach Abdulraheem Hameed.
"But we did not play well today and, unfortunately, the players lost concentration in defence at crucial moments in the game."