South Korea claimed its back-to-back third place at the Asian Cup after edging past Uzbekistan 3-2 in Doha, Qatar, early Saturday, Korean time.
At Al-Sadd Stadium, two young guns, 21-year-old Koo Ja-cheol and 19-year-old Ji Dong-won, scored all three South Korean goals in the first half.
Koo gave South Korea a 1-0 lead with his Asian Cup-leading fifth goal in the 17th minute, striking it past Uzbek goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov on a one-on-one chance.
Ji, playing in his first senior international tournament, added a pair in the first half to reach four goals in Doha, first completing a tic-tac-toe play in the 28th and then heading one over Nesterov in the 39th.
Ji has now scored five times in seven international games. Koo and Ji combined for nine of South Korea's 13 goals.
By finishing third, South Korea wins an automatic berth in the next Asian Cup in 2015 in Australia.
Uzbekistan, reeling from a 6-0 loss to Australia in the semifinals, looked overmatched against South Korea early until Alexander Geynrikh scored two unanswered goals. The Uzbek striker converted a penalty just before half time and then eight minutes into the second half, he undressed South Korean defender Lee Jung-soo inside the box to make it a one-goal affair.
After a wide open first-half, the teams tightened defensively in the latter half. Uzbekistan tried to tie the score in the 62nd minute but South Korean goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong denied a redirection by Olim Navkarov.
Four minutes later, Ji almost had a hat trick but his low showrolled off the right goal post.
Uzbekistan tried to get past an exhausted South Korean backline, coming off two straight games that went into extra time,but South Korea hung on for the win.
South Korean head coach Cho Kwang-rae praised his team for playing hard to the end.
"A third place game is always difficult," Cho said. "We played excellent football in the first half but we ran out of gas later and that made things tough for us. But we were able to preserve the lead, and I'd like to give kudos to our players."
South Korea had been seeking to win its first Asian Cup since 1960. Cho said anything short of a championship is a disappointment, but he sees hope.
"I think we gave ourselves a good opportunity to improve for the future," he said. "If we can get a little more speed and organization and play with more precision, then we will reach another level."
South Korean captain Park Ji-sung didn't play the game because of lingering knee pains. He is scheduled to hold a press conference in Seoul Monday, when he is expected to announce his retirement from international play. He played his 100th career international match against Japan in the semifinals earlier this week.
Defensive back Lee Young-pyo, who played his 127th international game Saturday, may also have played his final game for South Korea. After the semifinal loss to Japan, Lee said he had "already made up my mind" about his future. On Friday, he had tweeted that the game day would be "the day I retire."
This was Lee's 16th Asian Cup match, the most ever among South Koreans.