BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Tajikistan have reached the 2018 AFC U-16 Championship final, after defeating Korea Republic 7-6 on penalties in their semi-final match on Thursday. The match at the Petaling Jaya City Council had ended tied at 1-1, through goals by Ozodbek Panzhiev (2′) and Yoon Sukju (39′).
Both teams fielded relatively unchanged starting line-ups. Tajikistan boss Zaynidin Rakhimov was without forward Ahmadkhon Emomali who was suspended, and benched midfielder Sharifbek Rahmatov, who were replaced by Sunatullo Ismoilov and Ozodbek, while Korea Republic head coach Kim Jung Soo made no change to the side that huffed and puffed to beat India 1-0 in the quarter-finals.
Just like against DPR Korea in the quarter-finals, it was the Tajiks who drew the first blood, scoring in as early as the second minute. Korea defenders did not handle a low free kick by Nidoyor Zabirov from the left properly, and Ozodbek was there to stab the ball home for the opener. Amazingly, it was only the first time that the East Asian side have conceded in the finals.
They almost doubled their lead in the 18th minute, but Rustam Soirov’s strike from inside the penalty box was parried away by goalkeeper Shin Songhoon.
Surprisingly, Jung Soo made his first change early in the game; at the half hour mark, taking off defender Kim Ryunseong and bringing on midfielder Jeong Sangbin. With the defender’s departure, Korea swapped to a back-three formation; one man being moved further up the pitch.
This decision paid off handsomely not long after. The extra man up allowed them to overload Tajikistan’s final third, and in the 39th minute they would find what they were looking for. Substitute Sangbin’s corner kick from the left was met by Sukju’s well-timed glancing header for the equaliser, although it was massively helped by custodian Mukhriddin Kasanov’s misjudging where in his box the delivery would drop.
At the start of the second half, Zaynidin made his first change; taking off midfielder Nidoyor Zabirov for defender Shohrukh Sangov, and that seemed to put a stop to Korea’s constant pressure.
An uncharacteristic defensive mistake by Korea defender Lee Junsuk almost handed Tajikistan the lead again in the 52nd minute, but Songhoon expertly palmed Rustam’s strike behind.
Eight minutes from the end of regulation time, Hong Yunsang was put through by a through pass, but the midfielder wasn’t able to score past the onrushing Mukhriddin.
Choi Minseo later sent in a dangerous short cross from the right, but none of his Korea teammates were near the far post to nod the delivery home, for what surely would have been the winner.
The full 90 minutes ends tied at 1-1, and penalty shootout was required to decide the winners and finalists.
Amazingly, all ten of the initial penalty takers managed to convert their spot kicks, and more rounds were needed.
This time, again Mukhriddin emerged as Tajikistan’s hero. He guessed the correct way to dive and push Son Hojun’s spot kick out, before Muhammadrasul Litfullaev converted his penalty to end the penalty shootout 7-6 in Tajikistan’s favour. In the quarter-finals against DPR Korea, he had saved two spot kicks to send his team through.
Tajikistan will now play Japan in the final match on Sunday, their first ever AFC U-16 Championship final, after Japan edged Australia 3-2 in the other semi-final match, earlier in the evening.
Read more on the tournament.
Also follow Goal Malaysia ‘s Instagram account!
View this post on Instagram
Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi does it again at Wembley! ✨ (Cartoon by @omarmomani)