The UAE are making it a habit of pulling out thrilling victories at the Asian Games.
Days after beating hosts Indonesia in a penalty shootout in the Last 16, the Junior Whites again triumphed on spot-kicks to overcome North Korea 5-3 in the quarter-finals of the tournament on Monday.
The win sets up a meeting with Japan in the semi-finals on Wednesday.
In penalties, UAE goalkeeper Mohammad Al Shamsi denied North Korea’s So Jong-hyok on the fourth kick, setting up Rashed Musabbah’s winner.
The sides were deadlocked at one apiece in normal time, with Kim Yu-song putting North Korea ahead in the 63rd minute on a header before Zayed Al Ameri struck back for the UAE four minutes later with his own header.
North Korea appeared to take the lead shortly after when Kim Yu-song again headed into the back of the net, but the goal was taken away as he was whistled for a shove.
The UAE are now one step away from reaching the title game, with Japan standing in the way after the Samurai Blue ousted Saudi Arabia 2-1 in their quarter-final clash on Monday.
Elsewhere, Tottenham forward Son Heung-min powered South Korea to the semi-finals as the defending champions beat Uzbekistan 4-3 in an electric match-up.
The World Cup star, who is in Indonesia vying for a gold medal that would keep him from a career-threatening spell of military service, notched a pair of smart assists for hat-trick hero Hwang Ui-jo before a late Hwang Hee-chan penalty sent the Koreans through.
While Spurs prepared to visit Manchester United in the Premier League some 7,000 miles away, Son was the driving force as the Koreans advanced to face Vietnam in the last four.
The Korea captain revealed that he was supposed to take the penalty kick but that substitute Hwang Hee-chan had demanded to take it – and Son couldn’t bear to watch.
“Hee-chan said he wanted it and was confident,” he said. “I told him to take the kick. I didn’t see where he put the penalty but I’m proud of him.”
Korea’s hopes of advancing almost evaporated in the space of two second-half minutes when Ikromjon Alibaev fired Uzbekistan level and then had a deflection off Hwang Hyun-soo trickle into the net.
However, Hwang Ui-jo struck back to complete his hat-trick with aplomb after 75 minutes.
Hosts Indonesia criticised the Australian referee for awarding two controversial penalties to the UAE in their Asian Games round of 16 encounter – both of which were scored as the Whites went on to triumph in a penalty shootout in Cikarang, West Java, on Thursday.
Indonesia twice trailed but equalised, including for a second time in the dying seconds, to send the game to extra-time and eventually penalties, cheered on by 25,000 partisan fans.
Robert Evans awarded the Whites their first spot kick in the 20th minute, Andy Setyo adjudged to have felled young Al Jazira striker Zayed Al Ameri.
The 21-year-old, who scored a brace in the 4-1 group stage hammering of Timor-Leste, dispatched the spot kick, but the hosts leveled through Alberto “Beto” Goncalves seven minutes into the second half.
Evans again angered the home side when he pointed to the spot for a second time in the 65th minute, Al Ameri taking full advantage to regain the lead for the UAE. Again the hosts came back though, Stefano Lilipaly netting his fourth goal of the tournament deep into stoppage time to force extra-time.
A winner could not be found and so spot kicks would prove decisive. The UAE were more clinical from 12 yards: Al Ameri, Ahmed Al Attas, Khalid Ibrahim and Hussein Abdulla all successful, with Abdullah Ghanem off target.
Maulana Septian and Saddil Ramdani missed for Indonesia as the UAE earned a 4-3 win.
But Luis Milla’s side felt the referee had played a big part in their exit.
“Today is a sad day for us. The second penalty should not have been awarded,” Indonesia goalkeeper Andritany Ardhiyasa told reporters after the match.
“The second penalty was dubious because there was minimal contact,” Spanish coach Milla added.
“The referee doesn’t have any competence to officiate at the Asian Games. He is not on that level. He’s the [opponent’s] 12th player and I am sad that our players’ struggle had to end like this.”
The UAE will now move on to the quarter-finals where they will face North Korea on Monday. The winners of Saudi Arabia and Japan await in the last four.
They may have scraped into the last 16, but the UAE’s path to the later stages of the 2018 Asian Games appears fairly clear.
Maciej Skorza’s men take on hosts Indonesia in Cikarang on Friday, knowing that a place in the semi-finals is realistically theirs for the taking.
Though the teams competing are the Under-23 group, the senior UAE and Indonesia sides are poles apart in terms of the FIFA rankings.
The south-east Asian minnows are ranked 164th in the world – 87 places behind the UAE.
Negotiate their way past the co-hosts and the UAE’s task could be even easier with a quarter-final tie against either North Korea or Bangladesh awaiting them.
The Koreans are ranked just outside the top 100 (108th) but Bangladesh are 194th in the world – the rankings only go down to 206th.
Also in the Junior Whites’ favour is that two forgetful games to open the tournament – Skora’s side lost 1-0 to Syria before trouncing hapless Timor-Leste 4-1 – was followed by a stirring 2-1 defeat to rampant Group C winners China on Sunday.
The Junior Whites had gained a deserved lead on Sunday through Fujairah winger Mohammed Khalfan’s snapped low finish against qualified opponents, who came into the clash with a goal difference of +9.
Beijing Guoan left winger Wei Shihao cut inside onto his favoured right boot and arrowed a powerful effort past Mohamed Al Shamsi to equalise.
Shandong Luneng midfielder Yao Junsheng then looked up from near the halfway line on 71 minutes and powerfully lobbed Al Wahda goalkeeper Al Shamsi to seal a come-from-behind victory.
Despite a second defeat in two games, the UAE snuck in to the last 16 as one of the four best third-place finishers. If they can win their next two games, the last four is where things will start to get tricky.
Make the semis and one of Asia’s heavyweights will greet them, with China taking on Gulf rivals Saudi Arabia and Japan facing Malaysia on the UAE’s side of the draw.
The UAE take on Indonesia at 13:00 UAE time on Friday.