By Colm Boohig
The time has come. Tonight, the Socceroos face one of the biggest matches in their history. The aim is to take home Asia’s most prestigious prize in front of what is sure to be a raucous and partisan Sydney crowd. The tie could not be more finely poised; it is the tournament’s top scorers (with 12) in the shape of Australia against the tournament’s meanest defence (zero conceded) in the form of South Korea.
The Socceroos run a tight defensive line themselves, having only shipped two goals in the five games so far – and one of those was in the 1-0 defeat against the Koreans in the final game of Group A. That seems like quite some time ago now as the Aussies have kept back-to-back clean sheets in the knockout rounds. A clean bill of health appears to have blessed the team going into the final, with the only decision needed to be made at right-back.
Ivan Franjic pulled up in the final moments of the semi-final win but he insists he’ll be fine for this evening’s showdown. Trent Sainsbury and Mark Milligan are waiting in the wings if necessary.
For the Koreans, their playmaker Son Heung-min has recovered from the illness that plagued him in the group stages to provide the influence that matches his talent in the knockout stages. Heung-min has scored some key goals for the Taeguk Warriors in the last couple of games and is arguably the best player left in the Asian Cup.
However, the main battle may lie in the centre of the park, where skipper Mile Jedinak will face Korean captain Ki Sung-yueng. Both are their respective country’s most important players and whoever wins that personal duel may well also find themselves lifting the Asian Cup come the end of the evening.
The most positive element of the Australians free-scoring has been the variety of goalscorer, with the team not relying on the otherwise over-relied-upon Tim Cahill. South Korea, though, since their poor showing at last year’s World Cup have really turned their fortunes around since the appointment of German Uli Stelike as manager. Their team is now built on collective will and a watertight defence, combined with individual talent further up the pitch.
Ange Postecoglou has been bullish midweek in the build-up, refusing to be impacted by the defeat his team suffered against the Koreans earlier in the campaign, and instead focusing on the Socceroos aggressive and effective attacking style of play.
“Australians want their sporting teams to be aggressive and pro-active, to take the game to their opponents,” said the coach.
Make no mistake, should the Socceroos come out on top this evening in Sydney then it will be the greatest night in Australian football history. Never before has the Australian senior soccer side taken home a major trophy. If that is achieved tonight in front of the home faithful then Postecoglou and his men will have their names forever written in history and legend. It is a fact that has not escaped the Socceroos boss.
“We haven’t won anything in the men’s game yet. And this gives us an opportunity to achieve something.”
Four years ago, an estimated 484 million people watched Australia narrowly lose to Japan in the Asian Cup final. In 2015, Sydney could play host to hundreds of millions watching the Socceroos right that particular wrong. The only nation standing in their way of ultimate glory is the only country to have beaten them this year.
This will be truly fascinating.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia