Asian Cup 2015 Final Preview: Australia V South Korea

Tom Danicek previews the Asian Cup final from an Australian perspective. To look at the preview from a South Korean perspective, check out Martin Lowe’s write up here.

Even though these two Asian powerhouses have already faced each other at this tournament, the last group game isn’t really anything we could read into. Ange Postecoglou didn’t start all his offensive stars and even the midfield trio is expected to be much changed for the final.
Either way, what should Australia do now to avoid yet another, significantly more painful defeat at Korean hands?

Don’t even think about splitting the Špiranović – Sainsbury duo

Should you decide to re-watch the South Korea – Australia game in the group stages as part of your preparation for the final match, I strongly advise you to fix your eyes on the one and only touchline being exploited by the two most exciting fullbacks at the tournament; Ivan Franjić and Kim Jin-su.

It was a two-way road and a hell of a ride. Ivan Franjić created as many as five chances throughout that encounter (his tournament total stands on 10 as of now); while he was also forced to showcase his defensive qualities to an extent he hadn’t been forced to since the World Cup. Both fullbacks simply exposed each other in the most sophisticated way possible and it was real pleasure to watch them in action.

But the exciting prospect of tomorrow’s re-run is in some serious danger now, because Franjić is struggling with a knock he suffered in the semi-final and whether he starts is questionable. True, Ange Postecoglou sounded pretty confident yesterday and insisted he’ll have his favourite player available for the final, but still – we should deal with this issue at least briefly.

On paper, it’s nothing new to Australia considering they had to figure out a plan B for the same position just a few months ago at the start of the World Cup. In practice, though, it feels somewhat different now given Ryan McGowan isn’t around anymore and the most versatile defender, perfectly capable of deputising at right back, is coincidentally the best centre half Ange Postecoglou has brought here.

His name is obviously Trent Sainsbury, and here’s the deal: you simply don’t want to unsettle your first choice centre back pairing only a couple of hours before the final, do you?

What makes the potential reshuffle even more risky is the fact that Špiranović and Wilkinson haven’t got any extra opportunity to work on their mutual understanding ever since the World Cup; as the former went through some injury troubles in the fall. These two guys would therefore have to take up where they left off in the summer (coming back to the 0:3 loss to Spain) and that’s frankly not a very promising starting point.

Hence, if such an unfortunate situation occurs and Franjić is indeed unable to feature in the final, the Socceroos would probably be best served to stick with their nicely clicking CB tandem and rather look for Mark Milligan to make an emergency, Ramsey-esque transition from central midfield to the right back position. Which would make even bigger sense when taking our second point into account…

Milligan is not the right partner for Jedinak, at least not now

I get it, Mark Milligan contributed to a professional job done in the semi-finals, and Postecoglou will hardly be keen on changing the line-up before the most important match in four years. But I firmly believe Matt McKay would be a more suitable option to go with.

Being once a fine left midfielder, Matt McKay is now well-suited to play an important part beside Mile Jedinak with special regard to providing some necessary support for Jason Davidson, who’s about to face the biggest continental challenge imaginable – going head to head with the legendary and very much unstoppable Cha Du-ri.

Sure, Mathew Leckie possesses some fantastic work rate for a forward and he usually tracks his players back responsibly, but it would still be naive to count on him completely since he drifts all across the whole pitch and quite often finds himself on the opposite wing than Davidson’s one.

Of course, Mark Milligan wouldn’t be a terrible mismatch either, as he’s a competent all-rounder and an even more defensive minded candidate than McKay overall, but I still don’t fancy Milligan that much alongside Jedinak as I fancied him in the skipper’s place against Oman earlier in the tournament. There he would have collected a game-high number of successful tackles while completing 96 % of his passes (not only boring ones, mind you!), which he simply won’t be able to replicate next to Jedinak who likes to do the same.

Just take Milligan’s last performance as an example: he misplaced some easy passes against the UAE, hasn’t come up with a single tackle and particularly in the early goings he seemed to be a bit all over the place positioning-wise. Still, Milligan was a wise choice in order to double an opponent like Omar Abdulrahman, I’m not going to deny that – after all, the UAE star was being bullied pretty effectively at times.

But Uli Stielike simply doesn’t have any such genius at his disposal; and so ultimately, sticking with the Melbourne Victory mainstay could prove to be a needless waste of a spot. Especially as Matt McKay embodies one purposeful passer, who’s helped Australia to take the initiative firmly into their hands since he came on for Milligan just before the hour mark on Tuesday. And these particular attributes will be rated highly in the final, I’d expect.

Kruse needs to up his game in the final third

Thus far, it would have been rather harsh to fully criticize Robbie Kruse for his periodical rustiness in the final third, as he’s barely seen any league action in Bayer Leverkusen’s kit this year. But during the final countdown, there’s no place for making compromises anymore.

Robbie Kruse is one of the finest dribblers in Asia, while he remains a natural hard worker, too. That’s also why he always catches your eye, and through his eagerness to play with the ball, he usually ends up creating an illusion of being constantly dangerous.

The fact is, though, that Kruse’s final touch – let it be a delivery or finish – still leaves a lot to be desired. And to put it simply & bluntly: he should definitely be more prolific with all the promising positions he gets into on a regular basis.

Once again, this all might stem from his evident lack of match fitness. On the other hand, Kruse has already had plenty of opportunities to recover it back; and he certainly won’t be excused this time around.

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