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Men's Olympic football team gets hero's welcome after clinching Tokyo 2020 berth


INCHEON -- The South Korean men's Olympic football team made a triumphant return home from Thailand on Tuesday after capturing a spot in this year's Summer Games in Tokyo.

Coached by Kim Hak-bum, South Korea won the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Championship over Saudi Arabia on Sunday in Bangkok. The AFC event was also the Asian qualifying tournament for Tokyo 2020, and the top three countries earned their tickets to the Olympics.

Both South Korea and Saudi Arabia had bagged theirs by reaching the final, and South Korea put the icing on the cake by claiming the championship match 1-0, completing a perfect run through the tournament.

The young Taeguk Warriors won all six matches -- three in the group stage, plus their quarterfinal, semifinal and final games -- by a combined score of 10-3.

South Korea will be playing at a record ninth consecutive Olympics, a streak that began in Seoul in 1988.

Kim, 59, was hailed throughout the tournament for his tactical brilliance. He didn't use the same starting lineup in back-to-back matches, constantly juggling his players instead to catch opponents off guard and keep his own players on their toes. All 21 field players saw action in the tournament, leaving two reserve goalkeepers, Ahn Joon-soo and An Chan-gi, as the only ones not to take the field.

Midfielder Won Du-jae, who started in five straight matches after sitting out the opener, was named the tournament MVP.

Goalkeeper Song Bum-keun, the only South Korean to start all six contests, was the top netminder. (Yonhap)