By Michael Church
TASHKENT - Uzbekistan held their nerve to claim the nation's first under-20 Asian Cup title with a 1-0 win over Iraq thanks to a second-half Umarali Rakhmonaliev penalty in front of a sold-out crowd at Bunyodkor Stadium on Saturday.
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev was among the 34,000 capacity crowd to turn out to watch Uzbekistan's youth squad triumph after Rakhmonaliev stroked home from the spot in the 72nd minute.
"My players played well and we created many chances, so I think this is why we won this trophy," said Khaydarov, who previously steered the country to the Asian under-23 title in 2018.
"It's the first final for my players and they adapted well. When you play in a full stadium you have to adapt, enjoy it and play with responsibility. They showed they had enough experience."
The win came at the end of a 16-team tournament featuring Asia's leading youth teams, with the top four finishers - Uzbekistan, Iraq, Japan and South Korea - all qualifying for May's FIFA Under 20 World Cup in Indonesia.
Ravshan Khaydarov's side won the title despite struggling in front of goal for much of the competition.
Uzbekistan scored twice in their last four games in the competition and needed penalties in the quarter-finals to see off Australia before also beating the Koreans in a shootout to advance to the final.
It took another penalty for the hosts to win the decider, Rahmonaliev netting after the tournament's most valuable player, Abbosbek Fayzullaev, was cut down in the box by a clumsy challenge from Iraqi defender Sajjad Mohammed.
"These players have a very beautiful future," Khaydarov said.
"Maybe they made some mistakes and we're only scoring goals from penalties, so our mission is to score more."
(Reporting by Michael Church in Tashkent)