SYDNEY (AFP) – South Korea stormed into the Asian Cup final with a clinical 2-0 victory over Iraq on Monday, avenging a painful defeat at the same stage eight years ago.
Goals from Lee Jeong-Hyeop and Kim Young-Gwon did the job for the Koreans, who dominated a wet semi-final in Sydney to move a step closer to ending a title drought dating all the way back to 1960.
They face hosts Australia or the United Arab Emirates this weekend in their first final appearance at Asia’s showcase tournament in 27 years.
“We can’t speak anymore about pressure,” South Korea’s coach Uli Stielike told reporters. “We came to Australia as the third-ranked team in Asia and we have achieved all the goals we set. What comes now is extra. We have already taken a big step forward.”
The German insisted that South Korea’s 1-0 win over Australia in the group stage would count for little if, as he predicted, they meet the Socceroos again on Saturday.
“You know what Australia team we played that day,” he sniffed. “(Mile) Jedinak injured, (Tim) Cahill on the bench, (Mathew) Leckie on the bench, (Robbie) Kruse on the bench,” he added as his phone went off.
“My wife,” deadpanned Stielike, before continuing: “We didn’t play the best Australia team. For me there is no doubt they will reach the final and we have to be prepared to play the best Australia team.”
There was no repeat of Iraq’s shock win over South Korea in 2007, when they won a dramatic penalty shoot-out before completing their fairytale run by beating Saudi Arabia to lift the trophy in Jakarta.
South Korea, still to concede in their five matches, simply overpowered the Iraqis, Lee climbing to glance in a free kick from Kim Jin-Su after 20 minutes.
Golden boy Son Heung-Min had already forced goalkeeper Jalal Hassan into a smart save with a long-distance rocket before Lee — a surprise Asian Cup call-up by Stielike — netted his second goal of the tournament.
Lee, who scored in the 1-0 win over Australia in the group stages, turned provider five minutes after the break, chesting down a high ball for Kim to smash home from the edge of the box.
Skipper Ki Sung-Yueng stung Hassan’s gloves with another howitzer from long range as South Korea continued to swarm forward, the mercurial Son proving a different class as he ghosted effortlessly past Iraq’s bedraggled players.
Iraq coach Radhi Shenaishil, looking forlorn in a plastic poncho, barked out orders to his troops, but there was little left in the tank after battling fierce rivals Iran to a standstill in the quarter-finals.
Iraq, who prevailed 7-6 on penalties after a helter-skelter 3-3 draw, rarely threatened despite the threat posed by 2007 hero Younis Mahmoud, and the final whistle triggered wild celebrations among the massed ranks of Korean fans in the crowd of 36,000.
“We knew it was going to be tough said,” said Shenaishil. “Korea have a quality team with a lot of players in top leagues in the world. For us there were a lot of positives to take from the tournament.”