South Korea booked the top place in the Asian Cup’s Group A on Saturday night with a determined 1-0 win over hosts Australia in front of 48,513 fans packing a sweltering Brisbane Stadium.
Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou made surprise changes to his side, leaving Robbie Kruse and star man Tim Cahill on the bench along with three other changes from their last outing against Oman on Tuesday.
Kim Young-gwon’s poor control from goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyeon’s pass gave in-form A-League striker Nathan Burns a chance to break just outside the first ten minutes, but Burns’ attempt to cut the ball across the area was blocked by the redeeming outstretched leg of Young-gwon.
Tomi Juric had the first shot on target for the Australians, the ball falling to his feet and given plenty of space to run inside, but he mishit his long-range attempt and it rolled towards Kim Jin-hyeon for an easy save.
South Korea went temporarily down to ten men after Park Joo-ho received a knock that forced him off with what appeared to be a possible concussion.
Ki Seung-yeung combined with Lee Keun-ho and Lee Jeong-hyeop to provide the goal for Korea Republic in the 31st minute, with Ki passing into a channel for Keun-ho, who shot across the face of goal. Jeong-hyeop managed to scratch his boot on the edge of the ball, which was enough for a deflection to put the Sangju Sangmu striker’s name on the scoresheet.
Returning to the pitch shortly after the goal, Stielike was forced to substitute Joo-ho after he received a second knock from behind.
Koo Ja-cheol was also forced off after landing heavily from a contest, which introdued the dazzling footwork of Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Son Heung-min to the crowd in Brisbane.
The Socceroos inched their way back into the game with more useful possession, aided by the changed made to the Taeguk Warriors midfield and a decreased amount of pressure to avoid fatigue from the sweltering heat.
Tomi Juric started and finished a move by the Socceroos, passing wide to Ivan Franjic before receiving a cut back that the Western Sydney Wanderers striker could only put over the crossbar.
A saved chance by Nathan Burns in the 70th minute saw the current A-League top scorer’s last action of the game, substituted for Kruse, while Cahill replaced Matt McKay in a return to his familiar midfield position, where he played and became a fan favourite at his former English Premier League club Everton.
A yellow card to Matthew Spiranovic left the Western Sydney Wanderers defender with a suspension for the quarter final round, which will give Postecoglou further headaches as he considers how to improve the defensive consistency of his side.
An 88th minute chance fell to Kruse from Juric’s back-heeled pass, leaving the Bayer Leverkusen forward, who is friends with national rival Son Heung-min, one on one against Kim Jin-hyeon, who managed a fine save to avoid the equaliser.
Another save was made immediately after, when substitute Jang Hyun-soo received the ball behind the high line of the Socceroos defence. Club Brugge goalkeeper Mathew Ryan was up to the challenge and stood tall for the save.
With five minutes added to the clock, Tim Cahill received a questionable yellow card to the ire of the local fans for jumping towards a contested ball and colliding with Kim Jin-hyeon. Despite what seemed to be an endless amount of stoppage time, the Socceroos were unable to push forward for an equalizer.
Australia will now continue their stay in Brisbane with a quarter final appearance against guaranteed Group B toppers China, while Korea Republic will travel to Melbourne to face the second-place Group B side, which will be determined in Sunday’s match between Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia.