BANGKOK, Jan 22 (Reuters) - South Korea and Saudi Arabia claimed two of Asia’s three places in the Olympic soccer tournament in Japan later this year after reaching the final of the Asian Under-23 Championship on Wednesday.
The Koreans beat Australia 2-0, a victory that was more comprehensive than the scoreline suggests, while Saudi Arabia edged past Uzbekistan 1-0 to book their place at the Olympics for the first time since 1996.
Despite dominating against Graham Arnold’s side, Kim Hak-bum’s impressive Korean team had to wait until 11 minutes into the second half before opening the scoring when Kim Dae-won converted from close range after Lee You-hyeon’s initial shot came back off the post.
Lee Dong-gyeong added a second 20 minutes later to earn the Koreans one of the three places available for the continent at the Tokyo 2020 Games, which will be held in July and August, and maintain the country’s run of qualifying for every Olympics since 1988.
The Saudis booked their berth in Tokyo with victory over Uzbekistan in the opening semi-final.
Nasser Al Omran’s strike from distance took a deflection off Abdullah Al Hamdan and wrong-footed Uzbek goalkeeper Abduvakid Nematov before nestling in the net.
The win ended Saudi Arabia’s 24-year absence from the Olympics, having not qualified for the finals since appearing at the Atlanta Games.
Saudi Arabia will face the Koreans in the final of the Asian Under-23 Championship on Sunday while Uzbekistan and Australia will meet on Saturday, with the winner taking the continent’s third and final place at the Olympics.
Japan, who made a shock early exit from the competition in the group phase, qualify automatically for the Games as hosts. (Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Toby Davis)