The Socceroos made a massive statement on the world stage when they beat the Korean Republic 2-1 after extra time on Saturday to lift the Asian Cup for the first time – but they had to do it the hard way. In doing so, Australia, who were only admitted to the Asia Confederation in 2007, made up for losing the last final after extra time to Japan.
The hosts had to carry the hopes of a nation as they were expected to deliver their first Asian Cup trophy but they faced an in-form Korea who went into the Final having not conceded a single goal on their way to the showpiece. Added to that was the fact they were unbeaten in 15 Asian Cup games, winning 10.
Unsurprisingly the game was tight in the opening period with chances at a premium and the first work by either goalkeeper was when Tim Cahill forced a fine save from Kim Jin-hyeon midway through the first half. And in what was to set a pattern for the final the opening goal came late in the half and it came from the only player on the pitch who plays in third tier football, Massimo Luongo of Swindon Town and it was a goal of pure individual class.
Luongo took just three touches to put Australia 1-0 up. His first touch controlled the ball with his right foot, he spun around and with his left foot set up his third, and decisive touch, a cracking 25 yard drive that flew into the net.
Three of the last four Asian Cup Finals finished 1-0 but this time was different. Korea came out after the interval a different side to that of the first half. Unfortunately all the possession they enjoyed broke down in the final third and it was that lack of quality that proved their undoing in the final analysis.
Australia legend Tim Cahill was substituted in the second half and his replacement, Tomi Juric came on, little knowing the part he would play before the end of the game. The same applied to another Aussie substitute, James Troisi.
The home side were just moments from lifting the trophy until Son Heung-min broke Aussie hearts in stoppage time with a near post snap shot that gave Mat Ryan no chance, to send the final into extra-time.
Both teams played the further strength-sapping 30 minutes with no back up possible from the bench as all substitutes had been used, but as the first period of extra-time drew to a close the last kick of that session provided what was to prove the decisive goal.
Tomi Juric, in typical Aussie fashion, despite the physical attentions of several defenders, chased down and battled for the ultimate lost cause, near the by-line. Winning possession he slammed the ball across the six yard box where Korean goalkeeper Jin- hyeon could only palm it into the path of James Troisi, and the grateful substitute netted only his third international goal from close range.
It was enough to make Australia the first host nation to claim the Asian Cup since Japan in 1992.
Media reports suggest that in terms of organisation and presentation Australia did the competition proud in staging the Asian Cup. Add to that the national team’s success in winning the competition, and Australia has taken a significant step forward in terms of world football, and with the next two World Cups shrouded in stigma and alleged corruption it bodes well for Australian hopes of staging the top international football competition sooner rather than later.