[dropcap]A[/dropcap]sian Cup hosts Australia were unable to avoid a potential competition semi-final clash with highly fancied Japan as they succumbed to a solitary Lee Jung-Hyub goal against South Korea at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane yesterday.
The competing sides knew that they had already qualified from Group A to the tournament’s latter stages, but both were keen to continue recent momentum and top the pool to facilitate an easier passage to potential glory.
Australia were foiled in their late attempts to get something from the game by a dogged Korean defence, while team selection on both side’s raised a few eyebrows.
Here are five observations from the clash with the latter stages in mind.
Mat Ryan’s distribution first class
After breaking into and starring with the Central Coast Mariners side, most fans of A-League football were waiting for when rather than if Mat Ryan would move to a European club.
The goalkeeper has since moved to Belgian side Club Brugge and been the club’s first-choice for the last 18 months.
Reports in the press have claimed recently that Liverpool are keeping tabs on the 22-year-old in a bid to solve their keeping issues and Ryan has been passing his Premier League audition at the Asian Cup with flying colours.
Not only did the Plumpton-born stopper make a couple of accomplished saves to keep Korean forwards at bay, but his quick distribution to start Australian attacks was first class.
Ki Sung-Yueng shows one moment of real quality
Swansea’s versatile and accomplished central midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng was arguably the highest profile player to start the affair and has shown real quality in the exciting Welsh team this season.
The former Celtic man was perhaps not at his best in his side’s victory and was guilty of being caught out of position on occasion as he surged forward to support the team’s attackers.
However, one moment of real quality from Ki settled the game in Korea’s favour.
With three of the home side’s defenders baring down on him, the cultured midfielder picked out a sublime slide-rule pass to set Lee Keun-Ho free down the left flank, who centred for the visitors to score the only goal of the game.
Matthew Spiranovic a miss for quarter-final game
The journeyman defender is comfortable on the ball and has a certain poise that instils confidence in those around him.
However, the 26-year-old will miss Australia’s quarter-final clash against China after picking up a needless second-half yellow card, with the home side’s backline surely not as water-tight without him.
Son Heung-Min not at his best
Bayer Leverkusen forward Son Heung-Min is South Korea’s star man, but the gifted attacker started from the bench against Australia, with fatigue and gruelling conditions taking their toll.
Introduced early in the second half, the Bundesliga star showed glimpses of why he is so highly regarded in Germany and why he has the ability to be a global star as he develops as a player.
However, Son certainly looked jaded after featuring in earlier fixtures and on a number of occasions was guilty of making the wrong decisions in promising positions.
If Uli Stielike’s men are to go all the way to the final in Sydney and claim tournament glory, Son will need to be better than he showed against Australia yesterday.
Nathan Burns shows incision but Australia need more quality in final third
Ange Postecoglou opted to rest star attackers Tim Cahill and Robbie Kruse for the game, safe in the knowledge that Australia would need the pair in the latter stages of the tournament.
When the duo were introduced with the hosts chasing a goal, the quality in the final third certainly increased and Kruse was very unlucky not to equalise after a clever piece of interplay.
Of the players that came into the side, Nathan Burns caught the eye with a show of speed and penetration in the opposition half, but failed to capitalise with end product in good positions.
All-in-all, Australia lacked that lit bit of quality in their final delivery, which in the long run could well be the difference between a disappointing campaign and tournament victory.
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