South Korean captain Ki Sung-yueng has heaped praise on Australia ahead of tomorrow’s AFC Asian Cup final in Sydney.
Ki, who spent four years in Brisbane as a teenager, has fond memories of his time in Australia and says in the ten years since he left Australian football has blossomed.
“I think Australian football has improved a lot,” he told reporters at a packed pre-match press conference today.
“The way they play football is not only physical, only speed, now they start to play football, and pass the ball very well.
“They’re a very organised team, it won’t be easy. It’s going to be tough and hard.”
Tomorrow’s final will see the tournament’s best attacking team (Australia) line up against the best defensive team (South Korea), and Ki is determined to ensure his side goes through the entire tournament without conceding a goal.
“It’s my first time reaching the final of such a competition without conceding any goals,” the 26-year-old said.
“Obviously not conceding any goals means a lot of positive spirit for our confidence. Our defence not only individually but as a team is very strong; all our players are concentrating on finishing the tournament without conceding any goals.”
If Korea do win the title tomorrow it will be their first triumph in 55 years, a record that doesn’t sit well with Ki or the rest of the South Korean side.
“It’s a bit weird and shameful for ourselves that we never proved that we are the biggest team in Asia,” he said.
“We always say that Korea is one of the best teams in Asia because we always go to the World Cup, and we went to the semi finals (in 2002), we’ve gotten past the group stage, but we’ve never won the Asian Cup.
“Japan and Saudi Arabia have won more times than us.”
While that could place undue pressure on his side, Ki believes it will help motivate his side tomorrow.
“Of course there’s pressure but we don’t have anything to lose,” he said.
“Maybe Australia have more pressure than us. I’ve told the players that this is a great opportunity, maybe once in our lifetime, to become Asian champions. I think everyone is ready to play tomorrow, and that everyone is prepared for themselves and the team.”
Handling the pressure is a worry for coach Uli Stielike, however, with the German worried about how his young team will handle the pressure of such a big occasion.
“I don’t know how we’ll go out onto the field,” the former Real Madrid defender said.
“If you have a lot of young players, it’s the first time they’ll be in a big final, in a big event with 80,000 people. I don’t know how they’ll react.
“If we can control our nerves and we play calmly and with conviction, we’ll have all our possibilities to win the game. This will be the main point tomorrow: how strong will our mentality be for this game.”