Kathmandu: North Korea edged Turkmenistan 2-1 to claim the AFC Challenge Cup in Nepal`s capital Kathmandu on Monday and guarantee themselves a place in the region`s premier football tournament.
In a repeat of the 2010 Sri Lanka final, Turkmenistan were found wanting from the penalty spot, blasting over late on only to see their more clinical opponents put away their own spot-kick seconds later to take the final 2-1.
Turkmenistan had got off to a dream start with striker Berdy Shamuradov slotting past Ri Myong-Guk after just two minutes, the first time the North Korean keeper had conceded in the biennial tournament for Asia`s emerging nations. In a frenetic opening, favourites North Korea could have hit back twice after being denied a penalty shout which could have gone either way and then hitting just wide from a free-kick 20 yards out moments later. North Korea piled on the pressure and were rewarded when hitman Jong Il-Gwan leapt to head a lofted cross low inside the post, to the delight of Kathmandu`s Dashrath stadium, which holds 22,000 but looked half full.
Midfielder Pak Nam-Chol could have taken his team into the break in the lead after he was released just before half time for a one-on-one with Turkmen keeper Rahmanberdi Alyhanov. But the 19-year-old fluffed his lines, pulling the trigger too early and blasting just over the bar.
North Korea continued in the same vein after the whistle, narrowly missing out on a number of scoring opportunities as the Turkmen spent large parts of the second period camped in their own half.
Turkmenistan continued to look dangerous on the break, however, stretching the Koreans at every set-piece and hitting the bar with a stunning free-kick from the edge of the area by Turkmen player of the year Arslanmyrat Amanov. The ever-industrious Amanov was tripped in the box on 81 minutes but captain Shamarudov blasted the penalty high over the bar and North Korea won their own penalty for a foul in the box straight from the goal kick.
This time there was no mistake as substitute Jang Song-Hyok dispatched the ball low into the left-hand corner.
North Korea are now assured a place at the 2015 edition of the AFC Asian Cup, the region`s blue riband football tournament, in Australia. (AFP)