By Colm Boohig
Substitute James Troisi will never have to pay for another schooner again as his extra-time goal brought Asia’s biggest prize to Australia for the very first time. In what was a thrilling Asian Cup final, stoppage time goals proved to be a regular theme. Socceroos’ player of the tournament Massimo Luongo gave the hosts the lead on the stroke of half-time, before Son Heung-min’s 91st minute leveller pushed the game into extra-time. Troisi’s finish in the last kick of the first period of added time delivered sheer ecstasy to the home faithful.
In a final that produced a frantic finale, the game actually started quite slowly. Socceroos skipper Mile Jedinak’s early free-kick went narrowly over, and it wasn’t until the 25th minute that the game came to life. Kwak Tae-Hwi should have done better with his header from Ki Sung-Yueng’s cross, with Australia responding immediately through Tim Cahill, but his shot was well saved by Kim Jin-Hyeon.
South Korea were beginning to dominate though, with playmaker Son Heung-min becoming influential. His tremendous volley inside the area from Kim Jin-Su’s cross had Ryan looking nervous, while a minute later Luongo’s superb tackle denied Heung-min, after great work by veteran full-back Cha Du-Ri.
The Koreans failed to make their pressure count and right on half-time found themselves a goal behind. Totally against the run of play, Luongo swivelled on the ball and, from 20 yards, released a fierce drive which found the bottom right corner. It was a goal to match the occasion, as South Korea finally conceded their first goal of this year’s Asian Cup.
As expected, the visitors flew out of the traps in the second half, dominating proceedings. However, this domination was becoming increasingly sterile. Despite keeping the ball for large portions of the half, the Koreans couldn’t breakthrough a stubborn and mean Australian defence. Heung-min’s deflected effort from distance forced Ryan into an awkward save, but it was the Socceroos who looked dangerous on the break.
Troisi and Tomi Juric replaced Cahill and the injured Kruse and the substitutes gave the hosts a fresh impetus. On the hour mark, Mathew Leckie’s break and shot called Jin-Hyeon into action, with Spiranovic heading wide from the resulting corner. Troisi’s left-footed effort from outside the area then went harmlessly wide, but with five minutes to go it looked like the Socceroos had done enough.
However, the Koreans demonstrated their steal, catching out Australia for the first time all evening, right at the death. Trent Sainsbury stepped out of defence to tackle, as the ball broke kindly to danger man Heung-min he kept his composure to slot passed Ryan, with the slight aid of a deflection. Extra-time loomed.
Unsurprisingly, the extra-time chances were few and far between, but the intensity and quality of football remained surprisingly high. Then, just as we were anticipating the extra-time interval, James Troisi went ahead and made himself immortal.
After superb play on the right by Juric, where he held off the challenge of Jin-Su before nutmegging the left-back, the forward crossed low into the box. Jin-Hyeon could only parry the cross out and, from point-blank range, Troisi reacted quickest to smash home the winner.
This appeared to knock the life out of South Korea, who looked shattered in the second-half of extra-time. Juric had a half chance to wrap up the game for sure but wasted the opportunity. Ki created a yard of space on the edge of the area but his shot was terrifically blocked by Sainsbury.
In the end, the Socceroos held out for a 2-1 win in what is arguably the country’s greatest ever soccer triumph. For the first time ever, the Australian senior soccer team has won a major honour. The decision to switch to the Asian Confederation in 2006 in order to provide greater competition now looks like an inspired move. However, all the credit must go to Ange Postecoglou.
The former Melbourne Victory boss took over in November 2013, with the Socceroos in a state of disarray. The team had just lost two friendlies, back-to-back, against France and Brazil by an aggregate scoreline of 12-0. Since then, Postecoglou has completely re-organised and, in doing so, his team performed quite impressively at last year’s World Cup.
No doubt, the pressure was on Postecoglou and his men as hosts of this Asian Cup. However, the extra-time defeat to Japan in the final four years ago has now been totally eradicated. This generation of Socceroos will now have their name etched in folklore.
Image courtesy of SnapthePix