The 1992 AFC Asian Cup was a competition that saw some of the established names fall short and also signalled the emergence of a new force in Asian football.
1992 Asian Cup
Runner-up: Saudi Arabia
Hosts: South Korea
The finals tournament was reduced in size from 10 to eight teams for the one and only time, with the tournament returning to East Asia as Japan hosted for the first time. Saudi Arabia returned as defending champions and were looking to equal the achievement made by Iran in the 1970s by winning a third Asian Cup in a row.
This left just six places available for the 20 teams entering the qualification tournament, which took the form of six groups with one team hosting all qualification games in a round-robin, with the top team qualifying.
This left some bigger teams fighting for one place and, as a result, there were some surprise non-qualifiers after all matches had been played as previous winners Kuwait and South Korea both missed out.
South Korea had started strongly in Group 6 with a 6-0 win against Bangladesh, but they were then shocked by the hosting Thais who beat them 2-1, then edged a close one against Bangladesh 1-0 to qualify for Japan.
Kuwait also started strongly in Group 2 in the United Arab Emirates when they beat Bahrain 2-0, but a UAE team coming off their first World Cup appearance won a thrilling encounter 3-2, then ensured their qualification with a 3-1 win against Bahrain.
Other groups saw the more established nations qualify, in some cases with relative ease. Qatar hosted and won both games in Group 1, scoring eight goals and qualifying ahead of Syria and Oman, while Iran when to India and coasted past the hosts and Pakistan in Group 3.
North Korea hosted and won Group 4, sealing qualification with a game to spare ahead of Macau, Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei (who had previously played as Taiwan and had been readmitted to the AFC earlier in the 1990s) and China won three from three in Group 5 in Singapore to reach another Asian Cup ahead of Indonesia, Malaysia and hosts Singapore.
The finals were held in Hiroshima Prefecture, with the Hiroshima Big Arch the main stadium, with other games taking place in the smaller Hiroshima Stadium and the Bingo Athletic Stadium in Onomichi.
Group A featured the hosts against past masters, emerging forces and the unknown element as Japan, Iran, UAE and North Korea entered the fray.
Iran looked set for the Semi-finals after beating North Korea 2-0 in the first match, then drawing 0-0 with UAE and they went into the final group game against Japan needing only a draw.
Japan had struggled so far, having drawn both games against UAE and North Korea, the latter only after a late Nakayama equaliser.
A tight and tense game followed at the Big Arch Stadium with Iran looking to have done enough, but a pass by Kitazawa bounced through the Iranian defence and Kazu Miura stole in to score the winning goal with just four minutes left to put the hosts through and send the Iranians home.
That Iran were heading home after such a confident start was due to the UAE staying undefeated and finding a win when it counted. Scoreless draws against Japan and Iran left the Emiratis needing a win against a North Korean team in the middle of a disappointing campaign.
Although North Korea scored first through Kim Gwang-Min, the UAE showed the determination that had taken them to Italia 90 and after Saad equalised on 81 minutes for their first goal of the tournament, Bakheet-Bilal put the UAE through with a well-taken goal on 85 minutes to finish second in the group behind the hosts.
Group B saw the holders take on perennial tournament contenders China PR and underdogs in Qatar and Thailand.
As with Group A, it came down to the two final games to decide the qualifiers from the group as the first four matches all ended as draws.
Saudi Arabia began the quest for the three-peat with 1-1 draws against China PR and Qatar, while their final match opponents Thailand had a 1-1 draw with Qatar and a goalless draw with China PR.
Unfortunately for Thailand, their great run, which had included qualification ahead of the more fancied South Koreans, was to end in brutal fashion as after Saeed Al-Owairan scored just four minutes in, Saudi Arabia dominated the game and cemented top spot with a 4-0 win.
They were to be joined in the Semi-finals by China PR, who had Peng Weiguo to thank for their progression as his two goals either side of half-time cancelled out Al-Sulaiti’s early goal for Qatar and secured a 2-1 win.
The semi-finals saw regional rivalries come to the fore as Japan took on China PR, while Saudi Arabia awaited the challenge of the UAE.
China PR started the first semi-final with a bang as Xie Yuxin opened the scoring in the first minute, shocking the 15,000 packed into the Hiroshima Stadium. It was just the beginning of an epic encounter that saw Japan equalise just after half-time, then go ahead through Kitazawa on the hour.
Li Xiao grabbed an equaliser for China PR on 70 minutes and the game seemed bound for extra time until Masashi Nakayama sent Japan to their first final and consigned China PR to the Third-place playoff for the second successive tournament with the winner six minutes from the end.
The other semi-final wasn’t lacking in tension either as Saudi Arabia and UAE engaged in a chess match of a game, with chances at a premium, and the first goal would be crucial.
It finally came after 77 minutes with Saeed-Owairan breaking Emirati hearts with a low drive. With that, it broke the tension for Saudi Arabia and Al-Bishi added a second three minutes later to end the game as a contest and put Saudi Arabia through to their third final in a row.
After China PR won the Third-place playoff with a penalty shootout win over the UAE, the hosts and the holders emerged in front of 60,000 finals in Hiroshima for the show-piece final.
While not a classic encounter, the game had dramatic moments. It also saw Japan become Asian Champions for the very first time, also ending the West Asian stranglehold of the Cup, as Takuya Takagi smashed home after 36 minutes when a cross from Ramos found him unmarked in the box.