By Colm Boohig
Australia will face China in the quarter-finals of this year’s Asian Cup after losing 1-0 to South Korea in Brisbane. The defeat means that the Socceroos missed out on winning Group A and so will now battle against the Group B victors in the last eight.
As expected, Ange Postecoglou made a few changes to his line-up in order to maintain squad freshness, with Mark Milligan captaining the side. Initially, chances were few and far between, with Australia dominating possession but South Korea combating this threat with assured and calm defending.
Tomi Juric forced a save from Kim Jin-Hyeon on the quarter hour mark, before the only goal of the game came in the next chance, on 32 minutes. Lee Keun-Ho’s dribble and cross from the left was met by Lee Jeong-Hyeop who toe-poked in to the far corner at the near post.
The Socceroos looked to have made an immediate response when just four minutes later Massimo Luongo’s superb run down the right found James Troisi in the area who turned his man and sent the ‘keeper the wrong way but only found the side-netting. Speculative efforts from Matt Spiranovic (who will miss the quarter-final due to picking up another booking), Troisi and Nathan Burns failed to test the Korean goal as the sides went into the half-time break.
A one-two between Juric and Ivan Franjic in the 53rd minute saw the former smash over from close-range, while substitute Mathew Leckie’s turn and shot in the area was dealt with easily by Jin-Hyeon in the Korean goal. No doubt, the best chance of the game for the hosts’ came in the 88th minute when another replacement, Robbie Kruse linked up brilliantly with Juric on the right before finding himself through one-on-one with Jin-Hyeon. The goalkeeper was in inspired form though and fantastically saved Kruse’s effort.
Matt Ryan had to be alert to keep out a late South Korea counter-attack but the visitors held on to come away with all three points and a top spot finish in Group A. Afterwards, Postecoglou was keen to defend his decision to change his starting XI for the third game in a row.
“We didn’t rotate players tonight, we had a team we thought were capable of winning the game,” the coach said.
“We have three games in eight days and we knew tonight was going to be a difficult game because of the (hot) conditions.
“We had some fresh players and we thought they’d give us the best chance of victory.”
South Korea will now play the runners-up from Group B, either Uzbekistan or Saudi Arabia, in Melbourne. Meanwhile, the Socceroos will stay in Brisbane (and its much criticised pitch) to face the Chinese on Thursday night in the second quarter-final.