Muscat: The United Arab Emirates advanced to the quarter-finals of the AFC U-22 Championship after holding on for a goalless draw with DPR Korea on Wednesday at Seeb Sports Complex, which ended the campaign of their Group B rivals.
DPR Korea hit the woodwork and twice saw efforts cleared off the line in the first half, with the UAE simply needing to avoid defeat to advance to the last eight alongside Syria.
And despite DPR Korea again hitting the frame of the goal in the second half as they sought the three points they needed, the UAE survived to set-up a meeting with the winner of Group A in the quarter-finals at Sultan Qaboos Stadium on Sunday.
“I am very happy with the result. It was a hard match as DPR Korea wanted to win and I had made the players ready for this,” said UAE coach Ali Ebrahim.
“We wanted to win so we had to play defensively. Our strategy was to defend as we wanted to win or not lose.
“We gave the players a lot of information as for some of them it was the first time they played in a match like this. This was a very good experience for these players.”
Despite the previously unbeaten UAE knowing a point would be enough to seal a place in the quarter-finals, DPR Korea goalkeeper An Tae-song was forced into a double save at his near post after just 10 minutes to deny first Yousif Saeed and then Omar Juma.
But with DPR Korea in need of three points following Monday’s defeat by Syria, UAE goalkeeper Ahmad Shambih was soon called into action to gather a downward header from striker Pak Kwang-ryong following a slick passing move.
And with DPR Korea increasing their dominance on the contest, Shambih then was grateful for assistance from his defence twice as first captain Abdulsallam Mohameed and then Ali Salim were required to clear off the line from Jong Il-gwan’s shot and Jo Kwang’s header.
Shambih continued to live a charmed life as Pak’s 40th minute free-kick crashed into the woodwork, but fortunately for the UAE, Kim Ju-song was unable to direct a difficult rebound on target.
Despite being forced onto the backfoot for the majority of the first half, the UAE did finish the opening 45 minutes strongly as Waleed Ambar saw his near post strike unconvincingly bundled away by An in the DPR Korea goal.
That did not stop DPR Korea’s overall dominance continuing into the second half as Yun Il-gwang flashed an effort across the face of the UAE goal just before the hour mark before Shambih denied Jong soon after.
But with DPR Korea unable to find the breakthrough, coach Yun Jong-su introduced Kim Jin-hyok in place of Jo to form a new front three with Kim Ju-song dropping in behind the front pair.
And the move almost paid off seven minutes after the hour mark as Pak’s header played in Kim Jin-hyok, but the off balance second half substitute blazed over the crossbar.
Jong then crashed a header into the UAE crossbar with 16 minutes remaining before Shambih was quick to react to save from So Kyong-jin with the UAE increasingly retreating further into defence as the clocked ticked down.
Five minutes of added time gave DPR Korea hope, but the UAE finished strongly and were able to effectively run down the clock.
“Because the players felt stress as they had to win, this caused them to miss chances. It was a tough match and we did our best,” said DPR Korea coach Yun Jong-su.
“The players did what they were told, but the only problem was the lack of goals.
“The UAE were strong in defence, but we had a plan and the players did what they were told.”