LONDON: Victorious Saudi Arabia coach Khalid Al-Atawi said his Young Falcons have only just got started and predicted a bright future for the side.
Al-Atawi was speaking after guiding the U-19s to glory, beating South Korea 2-1 in the final of the Asian U19 Championships.
The trophy, which has returned to Riyadh for the first time since 1992, is not the only prize that has come back to Saudi Arabia. The team has also earned a ticket to Poland next year to participate in the U20 World Cup and will do so as champions of the world’s biggest continent.
And Al-Atawi claimed the future is bright for his side.
“There are bigger challenges to come but we will be ready for it,” the coach told Arab News.
“This is a great achievement. We have shown that we have talent and spirit and I knew that we could win it from the beginning.”
The young Falcons won all six of their matches at the tournament in Indonesia and flew home to a heroes welcome in Riyadh yesterday morning as deserved winners.
“The players have grown as the tournament progressed and worked so hard to win this trophy, and that started back in qualification last year,” Al-Atawi, who has won praise at home and abroad for his coaching exploits, added.
“We were the first to arrive here in Indonesia and the last to leave.”
Al-Ammar with his MVP award after Saudi Arabia's 2-1 win over South Korea in Indonesia.
Nobody could argue that Saudi Arabia had an easy run to the title. The team taking on most of Asia’s heavyweights with Al-Atawi and his men maintaining a perfect record.
“We are so happy to win without losing a game or even drawing. We played some very good teams in the group stage, and then we played Australia in the quarterfinal and then Japan (in the last four).”
The final was a tense affair against a talented South Korean team that boasted one of the stars of the tournament in Jeon Se-jin. The Young Falcons had the perfect start, however, as talisman Turki Al-Ammar opened the scoring after just two minutes, shooting home the rebound after Abdulmohsen Al-Qahtani’s shot had been saved.
Midway through the half, Khalid Al-Ghannam curled home from outside the area to put the West Asians within touching distance of the trophy. Korea came back after the break, however, and a converted penalty kick just after the hour from Cho Young-wook reduced the arrears. With 10 minutes remaining, Jeon missed an open goal from close range and Saudi Arabia saw out the game.
There was plenty of praise for Al-Ammar from many in Indonesia and the coach was also delighted with how the Al-Shabab midfielder, who was named as the tournament MVP, had performed.
“We knew that he would have a great tournament before it started,” Al-Atawi said. “He played excellently all the way from the start.”
Saudi Arabia Football Federation president Qusay bin Abdulaziz Al-Fawaz met the squad on their arrival in Riyadh and draped garlands around their necks.
They were also congratulated by Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa, the president of the Asian Football Confederation.
“Saudi Arabian Football Federation deserves our praise for producing continental champions who will inspire our youths and instill the desire and willingness to succeed on the world’s biggest stage,” Al-Khalifa said.
South Korea boss Chung Jung-yong was disappointed to lose the final and a chance to win continental title No. 13, but believes that his team can go on to greater heights.
“Congratulations to Saudi Arabia for being champions and for winning all their games which is not an easy thing to do,” Chung said.
“Overall this was a good tournament for us and I am pleased with the progress we have made.
“In the final we made too many mistakes in the first half and we found ourselves two goals down. We were much better in the second half and it was a good performance all around.”