Australia edges out South Korea in Asian Cup final

Sydney, Jan 31 (IANS) It was a game where both sides deserved to win but it was Australia which triumphed 2-1 in extra time to win the country’s most prestigious football trophy since entering international matches in 1922.

And the coaches — South Korea’s Uli Stielike and Australia’s Ange Postecoglou — aired expected disappointment and joy when the Asian Cup final finally ended here Saturday evening. The heart-stopping match saw South Korea snatch a draw just 90 seconds from full time at Stadium Australia.
Midfield danger man Son Heung-min received a ball from teammates, who managed to clear the ball from heavy defensive traffic and give him the opportunity to score a 1-1 equaliser.
A crowd of more than 82,000 people gasped as it seemed Australia had been about to win but the estimated 20,000 South Korean supporters were delirious as Son leapt advertising hoardings and ran to their grandstand to rejoice.
The South Koreans were relentless in attack and with their defensive force-field, which had not conceded a goal in five pre-final matches. But Australia was resolute in taking its chances when opportunity knocked.
And it did so against play in the 45th minute when midfielder Massimo Luongo received a counter-attacking long-range pass from defender Trent Sainsbury. Luongo, later named player of the tournament, hammered a rocket-ball straight past South Korea’s goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyeon from 20 metres to put Australia in front after South Korea had been on top.
The second half opened with physical intensity between both teams and several free kicks were awarded to both. Australia’s premiere player Tim Cahill was substituted in the 63rd minute by Tomi Juric. But disaster struck in the next few minutes when key Australian players Robbie Kruse and Ivan Franjic left the field injured.
South Korea launched a series of attacking raids but Australia held them off. Until Son swooped and settled the scores to push the game into extra time.
It opened with both teams playing as if the game had just begun, showing energy levels and attacking and defensive intensity belying the fact that they had already played more than 90 minutes of regular time.
South Korea goalkeeper Kim punched a near certain Australian goal clear in the 100th minute. Two minutes later South Korea were all over Australia’s defence, only to be thwarted by Australian goalie Mat Ryan, who also punched a close shot clear of his goal.
Three minutes later came an extraordinary play which epitomised the way both teams were giving their all. Australia substitute Juric was outside South Korea’s penalty box near the dead-ball line with the ball at his feet. Two South Korean defenders launched themselves at him. They tussled, fought and scrapped for the ball for at least five seconds, centimetres from the line.
Then Juric managed to clear and flick the ball to a waiting fellow substitute James Troisi in the South Korean penalty box, who scored a goal.
Play went from end-to-end till the 114th minute when South Korea again took control. The Australians resolutely hurled their bodies at attacking plays, smothering raids with just three minutes to go. With 15 seconds left, South Korea had one final chance but the shot missed.
The final whistle blew. The Australians leapt with joy as the South Koreans slumped to the pitch. Australia were presented with the Asian Cup trophy which captain Mile Jedinak held aloft before the cheering crowd.