SYDNEY (dpa) – Australia and South Korea meet in the final of the Asian Cup on Saturday with both teams looking to claim a historic victory in Sydney.
South Korea are two-time winners of the competition but their last success was more than half a century ago, back in 1960.
Australia are trying to win the tournament for the first time and confirm their status as an Asian powerhouse.
The sides met just over a week ago at the conclusion of Group A, but neither camp seems to believe that South Korea’s narrow 1-0 victory over a heavily-rotated Socceroo side hands them a psychological advantage.
“(Mile) Jedinak was injured, (Mathew) Leckie on the bench, (Tim) Cahill on the bench, (Robbie) Kruse on the bench, so it will not be the same Australia (we face),” South Korean coach Uli Stielike said.
“We are realistic that in the first game we didn’t play the best Australia team.”
South Korea have not been prolific in terms of scoring themselves but have yet to concede in eight hours of Asian Cup football. Virtually unknown striker Lee Jeong Hyeop has done a steady job leading the line while Bayer Leverkusen star Heung Min Son, after battling a severe flu bug, has found the net only twice.
Stielike, despite saying before the tournament started that the cup was the target, attempted to ease the expectations on his players after their 2-0 semi-final win over Iraq.
“When we came here to Australia we left South Korea in the third position in the AFC ranking,” he said. “What I said before we left, we want to come back with a better result and the better result has come today, so anything coming now is extra.”
South Korea are without midfielders Koo Ja Cheol and Lee Chung Yong who have already returned to their clubs but no fresh injuries are reported.
That is not the case for Australia who are sweating on the fitness of full-back Ivan Franjic, who picked up an injury in their semi-final triumph over the United Arab Emirates.
And unlike Stielike, Aussie coach Ange Postecoglou made no attempt to lift the pressure on his players ahead of what he described as a once in a lifetime chance to play a home final.
“It is a massive game,” he said. “We made the final four years ago which was great for our nation. We have been in Asia for a while now and we haven’t won anything in the men’s game, but this gives us an opportunity at a national level to achieve something.”
“I think we have been very good the whole tournament. There haven’t been too many periods in any games where I have felt we’ve been dominated, so for the most part we have been pretty solid.”
Australia have often relied on record scorer Tim Cahill but the Socceroos are now spreading the goals around. Though Cahill has found the net three times at the competition, another nine players have also been on the scoresheet.
With the midfield anchored by reliable captain Jedinak, Massimo Luongo, Kruse, Leckie and Cahill will attempt to breach the strong South Korean defence and ensure the Asian Cup trophy does not leave Australia come the final whistle.