Hosts Korea beat Hong Kong 12-7 in the final of the Asia Rugby Olympic qualifier in the most thrilling of circumstances to secure their place in the men's sevens competition at Tokyo 2020.
With the match in sudden death extra-time, Korea turned over Hong Kong by winning a penalty near their own try-line and then held on to possession expertly before Seongmin Jang finished off the length-of-the-field move to spark wild celebrations within the Namdong Asiad Stadium in Incheon.
It was heartbreaking for Hong Kong, but elation for the hosts and they will now join Japan at Tokyo 2020.
“The last try was amazing, it means so much to us,” said Korea captain Park Wanyong.
“We give the fans an Olympic opportunity and this is for the fans.”
Hong Kong will have another chance to qualify, along with China who won the third-place play-off against the Philippines 19-14, at the global repechage tournament next June.
Sri Lanka beat Malaysia 14-7 to win the Plate, while Singapore finished seventh with a 33-7 win over Afghanistan.
Jamie Hood gave top seeds Hong Kong a slender lead after four minutes of enthralling action worthy of any final, but Park Wanyong responded for Korea late in the second half – the first try Hong Kong had conceded all weekend – to tie the scores at 7-7 and set up a thrilling finale.
With fervent backing from the stands, Korea had all the momentum and the pressure eventually told on Hong Kong.
“Momentum shifted a hell of a lot in that game, but we had enough chances to win. We had chances to score right through the end. The guys were working their socks off, but we could not get the ball away from the Korea ruck really,” lamented Hong Kong coach Paul John.
“That last play, you know, to be on their line in extra-time, five metres away, but a penalty goes against us and they go all the way. That is why sevens is such a great and cruel game.
“I can’t fault the boys’ effort or their commitment, not just the guys here with us but the other boys back at home that have trained so hard for this moment.”
One ticket remains
It will be only the second time rugby sevens has been at the Games having made its debut at Rio 2016.
Twelve men’s side and 12 women’s sides will compete for the prestigious gold, silver and bronze medals, and Asia will now be represented by both Japan men and women as well as China women and Korea men.
Following the conclusion of the regional qualification process, only three spots remain to be filled via the global repechage – two in the women's and one in the men's.
Hong Kong stalwart Salom Yiu Kam-shing hopes his team can still realise their Olympic dream.
“It's really disappointing, but we still have one more chance to get to the Olympics in June, but it will be tougher," he admitted.
Hong Kong had been on song throughout the competition, scoring 108 points without reply on day one, while Korea progressed to the last eight after comfortably seeing off Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.
In the quarter-finals, Junyoung Bang scored a hat-trick in Korea's quarter-final victory over Malaysia, while Lee Jones scored two in Hong Kong’s 38-0 defeat of Afghanistan.
Jeong Min Jang scored for Korea in the final play to win 12-7 after trailing China 7-0 in the first semi-final with Hong Kong cruising to a 26-0 win over the Philippines.
Having been pushed to the limit in the semi-finals, Korea had shown plenty of resolve and they drew on that fighting spirit again in the final to clinch the coveted prize.
Following their momentous victory, Korea join hosts Japan, HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series qualifiers Fiji, USA, New Zealand and South Africa, along with regional qualifiers Argentina, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and Kenya, in the line-up for Tokyo 2020.