By Colm Boohig
For the second Asian Cup in a row Australia will appear in the final, courtesy of a 2-0 win over the United Arab Emirates in Newcastle. Within a quarter of an hour Australia were two goals up thanks to defenders Trent Sainsbury and Jason Davidson – their first goals for the Socceroos. After that, the result was never really in doubt as, for the second time in this tournament, Australia and South Korea will come face-to-face, this time in the showdown.
The hosts could not have dreamt of a better start when with just three minutes on the clock, Sainsbury headed in the opening goal. The defender jumped totally unopposed from Massimo Luongo’s corner to head into the unguarded far corner of the net. The UAE responded admirably and in the 10th minute they created their best chance of the match. Sanqour skipped past the challenge of Davidson on the right before squaring to Ahmed Khalil, whose first time shot hit the left post.
The UAE were made to pay for that missed opportunity as just four minutes later the Socceroos doubled their lead. Robbie Kruse’s chipped ball into the area eventually found Mathew Leckie. His shot was blocked before falling to Luongo, who cleverly nudged the ball to Davidson, and from nine yards the full-back finished with the aplomb of an accomplished striker to make it 2-0.
That was the Socceroos 12th goal of the tournament, and their 10th different scorer, against a UAE side who have conceded the most chances of the Asian Cup. The stats were starting to make sense now. Khalil and Omar Abdulrahman – UAE’s sumptuous playmaker – were causing problems but it was Australia who mustered the only other credible chance of the half. A one-two between Tim Cahill and Mark Milligan saw the latter shoot harmlessly wide.
The UAE started the second half with greater intent, as the hosts began to slack. Khalil’s thunderous 30-yard effort wasn’t far off while Omar was now picking holes in an otherwise watertight Aussie defence. However, it was still the Socceroos who were creating the chances. Kruse’s long dribble ended with the forward shooting wide, while Luongo found a similar climax from a surprise left-footed attempt.
Substitute Tomi Juric then missed the target with five minutes to go, but by now any momentum that the UAE had from earlier in the half had dissipated, as the hosts saw out a fairly routine victory.
It’s now back-to-back clean sheets for the Socceroos but they will have to up their game against an impressive South Korean outfit in Saturday’s final. South Korea are the last team to score against and the only team to beat Australia at this year’s Asian Cup.
Afterwards, Ange Postecoglou praised his side’s form throughout the campaign, noting his team’s regular goalscoring, as well as the growing self-belief. However, he also stressed the need to remain focused ahead of the final hurdle – a hurdle which the Socceroos fell over four years ago in the final against Japan.
“Walking in the dressing room now there’s no champagne corks popping. The staff are already planning for the final, so from that perspective I won’t have too much to do”, said the coach.
“We made the final four years ago, which is great for our nation, but we haven’t won anything in the men’s game, so it gives us a great opportunity to win something. It’s been a great tournament, it’s been great for the game, but for us not to be in the final would take a bit of the lustre off the whole thing.”
Truly, this final could not be better poised. It’s the tournament’s top scorers against the only side yet to concede a goal. Who will break on Saturday?
Image courtesy of Football Australia