Hosts Australia look to move a step closer to their first continental title as they get ready to take on UAE in the semi finals of the Asian Cup.
South Korea stormed into the Asian Cup final with a clinical 2-0 victory over Iraq on Monday, avenging a painful defeat at the same stage eight years ago.
Goals from Lee Jeong-Hyeop and Kim Young-Gwon did the job for the Koreans, who dominated a wet semi-final in Sydney to move a step closer to ending a title drought dating all the way back to 1960.
They face either hosts Australia or the United Arab Emirates in the final on January 31.
There was no repeat of Iraq’s shock win over South Korea in 2007, when they won a dramatic penalty shoot-out before completing their fairytale run by beating Saudi Arabia to lift the trophy in Jakarta.
South Korea, still to concede in their five matches, simply overpowered the Iraqis, Lee climbing to glance in a free kick from Kim Jin-Su after 20 minutes.
Golden boy Son Heung-Min had already forced goalkeeper Jalal Hassan into a smart save with a long-distance rocket before Lee – a surprise Asian Cup call-up by coach Uli Stielike – netted his second goal of the tournament.
Lee, who scored in the 1-0 win over Australia in the group stages, turned provider five minutes after the break, chesting down a high ball for Kim to smash home from the edge of the box.
Skipper Ki Sung-Yueng stung Hassan’s gloves with another howitzer from long range as South Korea continued to swarm forward, the mercurial Son proving a different class as he ghosted effortlessly past Iraq’s bedraggled players.
Iraq coach Radhi Shenaishil, looking forlorn in a plastic poncho, barked out orders to his troops, but there was little left in the tank after battling fierce rivals Iran to a standstill in the quarter-finals.
Iraq, who prevailed 7-6 on penalties after a helter-skelter 3-3 draw, rarely threatened despite the threat posed by 2007 hero Younis Mahmoud, and the final whistle triggered wild celebrations among the massed ranks of Korean fans in the crowd of 36,000.
NEWCASTLE, Australia — Mahdi Ali believes his UAE side have what it takes to upset hosts Australia and head into the Asian Cup final, with The Whites coach insisting star man Omar Abdulrahman is fit to lead their charge.
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With the semi-final coming just four days after eliminating Japan on penalties after a gruelling extra-time period, there have been fears that the UAE would struggle physically against the Socceroos.
Ali, however, insists his players have fully recovered, and will take the game to Australia.
“After playing 120 minutes against Japan, it was a strong game,” said Ali. “For us this is also a very important game and we are very well prepared.
“We planned to come to this for a long time and we are very happy to qualify for the semi-final and we will work very hard to achieve our goal next match, Insha’Allah.”
Confirming there are no injury concerns within the squad, despite rumours that playmaker Abdulrahman limped into training in Newcastle on Sunday, defender Mohamed Ahmed echoed the sentiments of his coach.
“After playing the game against Japan and winning, there is a lot of motivation and spirit in the team,” Ahmed explained.
“Of course, we are very optimistic for this game and we hope for a good result as well as playing good football. We will play with our own character and identity.
“We have had three days [rest], so we have made our recovery for this game and I think this will give us more courage to do our best because we’ve worked very hard to reach this level, and we have to work even harder for our next game.”
Having not reached a continental final since hosting the tournament in 1996, the stakes are high for UAE. Though only two players in the national team squad are over the age of 30, Ali is confident his youthful side can create a piece of history.
Indeed, the former Al Ahli midfielder moved to take all pressure off his players, claiming they have already attained their goal of a top-four finish. The semi-final will therefore see the UAE play with equal parts freedom and tenacity.
— AFC Asian Cup (@afcasiancup) January 24, 2015
“Two years ago we announced that our goal was to reach the semi-final. So the first goal is already achieved and we are happy about this.
“Now comes the second part, where we aim to reach the final, we worked very hard to reach this level and we will not let it go easily,” Ali stated.
In the visitors’ favour, of course, is the knowledge that they held Australia to a 0-0 draw in a friendly in Abu Dhabi last October. The only other match between the nations also ended scoreless in 2011.
Socceroos manager Ange Postecoglou is expected to boost his strike force as a result, with the attack-minded James Troisi widely tipped to play a role in midfield, while Mathew Spiranovic should slot back into the defence after missing the quarter-final win over China through suspension.