Australia made it through to their second consecutive Asian Cup final by beating UAE in Newcastle earlier today. Martin Lowe assesses the key players from the match and whether they lived up to their nation’s expectations.
Trent Sainsbury (Australia)
A commanding performance at both ends of the pitch, Sainsbury has developed into the Socceroos’ primary centre back after some up and down displays from his partner Spiranovic. His early header settled Australia into the match, in which he was rarely exposed behind the backline. A last ditch block to deny an in form Mabkhout confirmed a confident display, breathing confidence throughout the defence going into the final.
Massimo Luongo (Australia)
An all action display that secured the diminutive midfielder a brace of assists, Luongo upped the tempo when needed to stretch the UAE rear guard. After a couple of quieter displays, Luongo returned to the kind of form that he started the tournament in, as he continues to garner admiring looks that could see him move from Swindon before the January transfer window shuts. Could’ve added to his man of the match display, with a goal, only to be denied by Nasser in the second half.
Omar Abdulrahman (UAE)
All eyes were on the Emirati playmaker coming into the match, aiming to put his doubters to bed and perform to the highest level against the Socceroos. While he ultimately didn’t illustrate the wonder in which he has painted in previous matches, Abdulrahman continued to provide UAE with their best opportunities. As playmakers usually are, he can frustrate at times, but his ability for a cutting pass was present on more than one occasion today, continuing to underline what a talent he could end up being.
Ahmed Ali Mabkhout (UAE)
Alongside Abudlrahman, Ahmed Alli Mabkhout was put under great pressure to continue his goal scoring at the tournament, where he remains level for the Golden Boots accolade. In the end it was a much quieter performance by Mabkhout, who spent more time on the flanks than in support of Khalil in the Emirati attack. His one real chance was firmly rebuffed by Sainsbury late on, a sign of frustration which summed up the feeling in the UAE camp.
Jason Davidson (Australia)
Initially starting the tournament as back up, Jason Davidson repaid Postecoglou’s faith in him by netting the Socceroos’ second of the match to put it out of the reach of UAE. The one attribute that continues to put him ahead of Behich in the left back race is his willingness to join the attack. His goal demonstrated this to perfection, with the play largely being built up down the right, he glided in unassumingly to latch onto a loose ball. His cool calm finishing continues to underline Australia’s growing ability to create and score goals from all positions.
Mohanad Salem (UAE)
Another calming display by the Emirati centre back was unfortunately undone by the lack of composure on show from his other defenders. Throughout the tournament Salem has continued to be the prime talent to bring the ball out as well as mix it up aerially. His lack of pace has been rarely tested due to his good positioning, while his defensive colleague still leaves question marks. Whether Mohamed Ahmad, Ismail Ahmed or Hamdan Al-Kamali can cement their place in the side on the run up to the World Cup qualifiers is set to be seen in the coming months.
Ahmed Khalil (UAE)
Somewhat ignored by the media glow in Australia, Khalil continues to develop his game, and against the Socceroos he created the clearest openings for the West Asian nation. If his instinctive shot that left Maty Ryan rooted to the spot after 10 minutes went a centimeter to the left, UAE would’ve been back in it and threatened to change the game completely. As it was, it cruelly hit the post and UAE went on to concede a second killer blow only minutes later. Khalil went close again in the second period as his ferocious shot went whistling over Ryan’s crossbar, it wasn’t to be their day.
Mile Jedinak (Australia)
Criticised over the past two performances, this was a better display from the Socceroo captain who’s regaining some of his solid form that he started the campaign with. Paired against one of the most unpredictable talents in Asia at the moment, Jedinak alongside Milligan kept Abdulrahman quieter than most have this tournament, forcing the playmaker further and further back into his own half to gain possession. Another solid performance could see Jedinak lift the trophy on Saturday.