SYDNEY (AFP) – Lee Jeong-Hyeop struck in the first half as South Korea shocked Australia 1-0 on Saturday to top Group A and complicate the hosts’ task at the Asian Cup.
Australia had been the form team with two big wins so far, but Ange Postecoglou’s rejigged side were dealt a setback after the Korean striker slid in to score on 32 minutes.
The Socceroos, who finish second in Group A, will now play China in the quarter-finals in hot and humid Brisbane and face a likely semi-final against holders Japan.
Australia threw everything at South Korea as they sought a vital equaliser, and Kim Jin-Hyeon saved brilliantly from Robbie Kruse when the substitute looked certain to score.
The game was not without controversy, with Park Joo-Ho and Koo Ja-Cheol both stretchered off and Matthew Spiranovic earning a caution that rules him out of their last-eight tie.
“I definitely feel that we could have got a draw out of the game,” said talismanic forward Tim Cahill, who came on in the second half but this time was unable to rescue Australia.
“Korea took their chance, full credit to them. But I definitely feel like we could have finished top of the group.”
With clouds of moths swarming around Brisbane Stadium, Kwak Tae-Hwi nodded wide and Tomi Juric’s fierce shot was saved at the near post as the teams exchanged early chances.
Nathan Burns clattered Park, who was stretchered off and later withdrew, in an aerial challenge, before South Korea found a way through in the 32nd minute.
Captain Ki Sung-Yueng threaded the ball to Lee Keun-Ho, whose cross-shot to the far post was met by the sliding Lee Jeong-Hyeop with Aussie goalkeeper Mat Ryan given no chance.
The goal rocked Australia but after striking eight times in their first two games, they would have been confident of hitting back in front of a sell-out crowd in Brisbane.
James Troisi nearly found a response when his quick feet and shot bulged the side-netting — coming so close that the “Goal!” video message mistakenly flashed up on the big screen.
German-based midfielder Koo was stretchered off in pain early in the second half before Tomi Juric came close when he flashed a shot wide after a one-two with Ivan Franjic.
Nathan Burns had a shot tipped onto the bar before Postecoglou threw on big guns Cahill and Kruse with 20 minutes to go.