After 23 days of entertaining football, tomorrow is when it all ends. No one can argue with either side getting this far. Australia have scored the most of any team at the tournament and have outclassed their opponents in the knockout stages whilst South Korea are still to concede a goal and have won every single game including a group match against their opponents in tomorrow’s final. Whilst many wonder might wonder what might’ve been had Japan overcome the UAE in the quarterfinals to set up a game against Australia in truth they weren’t good enough and the UAE fully deserved to progress.
The hosts have impressed many with their attacking style and have somewhat exceeded expectations by making it this far. Before the tournament they were ranked outside Asia’s top 10 sides by FIFA after a poor World Cup and unimpressive performances in friendlies. However Ange Postegcoglou rallied his players and in their opening they beat Kuwait 4-1. Another four-goal haul followed against Oman before they surprised many by resting key players for the final game against South Korea. A draw or a win would’ve meant progression as group winners avoiding a potential tie against Champions Japan but the Socceroos were defeated 1-0 thanks to a goal by Jeung-Hyub Lee.
China lay in waiting in the knockout stages and in the opening exchanges of that game it looked the loss would cost the hosts dear. The Chinese came flying out of the box with Wu Lei leading the way as the Chinese missed multiple chances. However, the Aussies worked themselves back into the game and eventually won 2-0 thanks to veteran striker Tim Cahill. The UAE were dispatched in the semis with relative ease thanks to two early goals.
The Taeguk Warriors have had a somewhat more gruelling road to Sydney. As already mentioned they won the group after defeating all the other sides but they’re quarter final and semi-final were much tougher. In the quarters they faced Uzbekistan who were quite a few people’s outside bets to go all the way after narrowly missing out on qualification for Brazil 2014.
The Uzbeks held their own for 90 minutes with the game going into extra-time goalless. In the next 30 minutes the Koreans superior stamina showed with Heung-Min Son scoring twice and the Uzbeks powerless to stop them setting up a semi-final against Iraq. They never looked like losing to the Iraqis.
In all fairness the Iraqis had suffered a tough preparation for this game. After eliminating Iran on penalties after 120 minutes of football the Iranians lodged a complaint against Alaa Abdul Zahra and the Iraqis didn’t know until the night before whether or not they would be allowed to play against Korea. A goal midway through the first half and an early goal in the second was enough to see the Koreans progress to the final.
The build-up to tomorrow’s final has been somewhat overshadowed by the revelation that the AFC President knows of proposal by the Western Asian Nations to “evict Australia from the AFC”. The Australians are of course not a part of Asia but actually Oceania, they were moved by FIFA in 2006 to try an improve representation from that part of the World in the World Cup. It is a plan that has worked with the Australians qualifying for the last three World Cups (for Germany 2006 they were still OFC) and New Zealand qualified in 2010.
Postecoglou has been speaking to the media over the past few days and something that stood out was when he said, “We haven’t won anything in the men’s game yet. And this gives us an opportunity to achieve something”. Uli Stielike has also been speaking and has been warning everyone not to read too much into their group victory over tomorrow’s opponents: “We won’t play the same Australia… but we have to be the same Korea”.
Be sure to keep your eye on VAVEL's website over the next couple of days as we'll have live commentary of tomorrow's final and reviews of the tournament will follow in the next couple of days.
Image Credit afcasiancup.com