After 30 matches over the past three weeks, we are left with the two best performed teams of the AFC Asian Cup 2015 meeting in the final at Stadium Australia, Sydney. Korea Republic has won all of its five games and not conceded a single goal, while Australia has won four of five scoring the tournament high 12 goals, almost double that of their opponent.
The venue has previously witnessed some dramatic and epic football games, including the Gold Medal final of the 2000 Olympics between Spain and Cameroon which ended in a penalty shoot out victory to the “Indominatable Lions”. On a balmy night in November 2005, it was Australia that triumphed in a shoot out over Uruguay to qualify for the 2006 World Cup. In June 2013, the Socceroos qualified for the 2014 World Cup with a goal late in the game against Iraq.
Of 14 full internationals played at Stadium Australia, the Socceroos has an impressive record of nine wins, two draws and three losses including against Brasil in 1999 just after the facility was opened. Their last loss was to China in a ‘dead rubber” World Cup qualifier in the early group stage of 2008. Since then they have won five out of six against Asian opponents, the most recent being a 4-0 demolition of Oman in the group stage of the current tournament. The total goals scored during the above-mentioned period were 30 and only 10 conceded.
Although this is a ‘home game’ for Australia, the Taeguk Warriors will enjoy incredible support from well over 15,000 of their fans. Most of these will be from the sizeable Korean expat and student population in Australia, and in particular Sydney including the nearby suburb of Strathfield sometimes referred to as “Little Seoul”.
Both teams come into the final without significant injury concerns. Although Korea has a slight benefit of one day extra for recovery from their semi-final, there is no doubting there is no better physically conditioned squad than the Socceroos. Should the final go to extra time then fitness will surely be an important factor to influence the outcome.
Head coach Ange Postecoglou has moulded together a squad with depth and technical flexibility. Previous concerns about reliance on star striker Tim Cahill for goals have largely evaporated as there have been ten different goal scorers on the road to the final. The philosophy is not so different to the “total football” approach from the Dutch in the 1970s and that later evolved to profoundly influence the hugely successful FC Barcelona club and Spanish national team over the past seven years.
Australia may well stick with the same line up as in the semi-final, other than perhaps Matt McKay coming in to start in the left midfield ahead of Mark Milligan. As expected, Ivan Franjic looks set to shake off an injury concern to start in his regular right back position.
Korea’s well organised defensive structure has been the key strength, so they will once again be keen for Bayer Leverkusen forward Son Heung-Min and Lee Jeong-Hyeop to be on target. It would be a mistake for too much attention to be focussed on stifling Cahill, as the UAE found out last Tuesday when double marking allowed far too much space for other teammates who then scored.
This match-up between the two teams is a contrast in styles, which will also be reflected on the terraces between their respective active supporters. We will once again see the traditionally-dressed women Korean drummers help to sustain the chants that are such a consistent feature of support for the national team. The Socceroos active section will no doubt fire up vocally and visually for the massive occasion with a giant new ‘tifo’ and large flags displays ready for action.
A result for the game is very tough to predict with confidence, however the host nation must be slightly favoured. While only seven squad players have survived since the 2011 edition, that experience and knowledge could be invaluable as the Socceroos attempt to make amends for that narrow loss. To win would mean a first major title since their introduction to international football in 1922.
Korea will be in their first final since 1988, and their last title success was in 1960 when they were hosts. They have been astutely guided by Uli Stielike, who played in the 1982 World Cup final for West Germany. It is a tribute to Stielike that under his guidance in less than six months he has steered Korea to be playing its best football since at least the 2010 World Cup.
Match day will involve a leisurely lunch with friends at one of fine restaurants on the tree-lined boulevards of Olympic Park. Then across for a mid afternoon check in at the media centre and later taking in the colourful and creative fans culture associated with both teams as they steadily congregate outside the stadium. Finally, it is up to the media tribune to get settled in early ready for the action, likely to be played in mild and fine conditions with light winds. Around 78,000 fans will pack the venue, and in solidarity with fellow Australians a Socceroos t-shirt will be worn beneath ‘neutral’ media attire!
Across Asia a predicted live television audience of at least 800 million will tune in to witness the Taeguk Warriors and Socceroos as they both attempt to play the game of their lives. Forget anything about rankings, there is no doubt that the winners will be rightly anointed as the best team of the Asian Football Confederation. Regardless of your football allegiances and loyalties, let us all enjoy the spectacle.
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