We are down to the final two, as two giants of Asian football lock horns for the Asian Cup trophy in Sydney. Korea Republic have continued in their solid yet unspectacular form throughout and will be aiming to clinch a record 6th straight clean sheet at the tournament. What a tournament it has already been for Stielike’s men, but can they continue one step further as we look into the key points on how Korea are going to overturn the hosts.
What lessons can be learnt from their previous meeting?
Anyone who watched their final Group A match encounter in which Korea and Australia fought for top spot a couple of weeks back will testify that the final will almost certainly take a different form. The initial difference was the notable omissions, in particular of Australian key attacking players as Korea settled for a cautious approach that paid dividends with a 1-0 win secured thanks to Lee Jong-Hyeop. While on the face of it, what’s not broken, doesn’t need fixing, Stielike will secretly know they’re unlikely to get away with it again.
Firstly expect Australia to field their first choice front three of; Robbie Kruse, Matthew Leckie and the irrepressible Tim Cahill from the get go. Secondly, Stielike can’t rely again on the heroics of Kim Jin-Hyeun in goal. His timely saves to deny Nathan Burns and Kruse late on pointed them forward through to a much easier route thanks to topping their section. Finally, expectation will be much higher in Sydney than it was that evening in Brisbane. Aussie fans could sit back in the knowledge they would comfortably progress either way after a guaranteed easy quarter final draw irrespective of the result. This time around its win or go home, don’t expect Australia to choke on their golden moment.
So what can be learned from the match that Stielike can actually fall back on in preparation for Saturday? Predominantly his players’ mentality, which was unwavering under pressure from a thoroughly partisan crowd. The game was bitty and at times ugly, but Korea played the referee expertly while Aussie heads steamed. Not exactly the greatest of starting points I grant you, but a promising sign of Korean strength and Socceroo weakness that could come into play in a number of guises in the final.
What will Stielike’s lineup look like?
Throughout their safe passage through to the final, Korea have chopped and changed consistently, in most cases forgivably so, due to an early run of injury and illness. While the fragility of the squad seems to have settled for the last hurrah, there remains another opportunity for Stielike to surprise the visiting fans with another potential shake up.
Attack has seen the most flux of late, but due to tournament ending injuries inflicted to Koo Ja-Cheol and Lee Chung-Yong, the attacking fluidity seems to be quite predictable. Given Son Heung-Min will line up on the left, and with Nam Tae-Hee and Lee Jong-Hyeop almost guaranteed a spot after some great displays in the semis, it leaves one potential change on the right. Han Kyo-Won hasn’t really peaked in form, while his second half replacement Lee Keun-Ho continues to gain admirers for his great work ethic and goal scoring ability. It seems a no brainier, but let’s just wait and see.
The other position up for debate is at right back and could come down to Stielike’s overall approach to the match rather than personal preference. Cha Du-Ri has been one of the outstanding performers of the Asian Cup, as his continual powerful bursting runs have led to more than one opportunity being taken by the Korean attack. The less aesthetically pleasing option, is the stable Kim Chang-Soo. While he hasn’t been impressive, especially going forward, Stielike has given him the nod on more than one occasion if he’s after an initial cautious set up, as was the case against Australia earlier in the tournament. Whoever you prefer, this selection could lead you further into Stielike’s mind than most other decisions in the final.
Final words of wisdom
When talking up Korea’s chances you grasp at meaningless logistical matters such as travel (Korea have remained in Sydney since they qualified for the semis) and recovery time (Korea have had one day more to recuperate), while the biggest factor could be the support on show. It’s a sell out in Sydney and you wouldn’t expect anything less than a vibrant home support. However, as was seen in Newcastle during the Socceroos’ semi final, the crowd is muted very quickly, not necessarily when the game’s not going their way, a ploy Korea picked at during their encounter in Brisbane.
The other supporting factor is those outside the stadium, watching from blurry streams through to HD monitors. The gentle Australian envy is becoming more and more apparent since their reclassification to the AFC over the last decade. So much so, that some across the media (not restricted to the social branch’s ramblings) are putting forward Korea as the one true “Asian” champion for the continent to support. Whether this is all sour grapes, from a continent who hasn’t had the best few years, and in particular a sub-region (the West) who’ve lost a truly iconic team at Asia’s top table. While a debut Australian Asian Cup was supposed to unify the AFC, potentially it could divide it even further.