Asian Cup: Australia and South Korea into the semi-finals

South Korea d Uzbekistan 2-0 in extra time

Australia d China  2-0

Roy Hay

My day was bound up with Australia and South Korea as the two countries reached the semi-final stage of the Asian Cup with identical two-nil scores against China and Uzbekistan respectively. In the morning it was my turn to give a paper to the Worlds of Football Conference at Victoria University. The topic, ‘Football and War: Australia and Vietnam, 1967–72: A missing part of the national narrative’. The chair for the session was Professor Seonsik Cho from Hanyang University in Korea, so we had a good blether about the forthcoming football matches prior to the talk. He stressed how Koreans had strong feelings for Australia and over 30,000 of them were in the country at the moment. A good proportion of them were to turn up at the Melbourne rectangular stadium in the evening to cheer on their team.

South Korea met Australia in the final of the 1967 tournament in Saigon in the midst of the Vietnam War and Australia won by three goals to two. That was the first international football trophy Australia won. But that team has never had the collective recognition outside the football community that its bravery and expertise deserved.

The national team went back to Vietnam again in 1970 and 1972 while the players who formed the nucleus of these three tours went on to form the squad that qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 1974. The opponent in the final qualifying matches was South Korea again, and this time after two drawn games, the decider in Hong Kong was decided by a single shot into the postage stamp corner by the late Jimmy Mackay.

After attending some more papers at the conference I set off for the game, catching the free shuttle tram from Flinders Street. The transport fellow told us the tram was for the soccer and the tennis, but when we got to the Rod Laver arena stop, the tram terminated and a couple of us had to more or less circumnavigate the MCG to get to the rectangular stadium. I had time for a bite to eat and was hailed by Chris Love, one of the best Australian referees, now living on the Central Coast, but down for the game. He is still acting as a referees’ assessor passing on his knowledge and advice to the next generation. As is another good friend Billy Rae from Dundee in Scotland who has played the game in Australia for umpteen years and has been coaching youngsters from the Under-9s to seniors since then. Next up was Peter Psarros about whom I used to write when he was playing in the National Youth League and later at Port Melbourne in the Victorian State Leagues. He is now a cameraman covering the Asian Cup.

Then it was off to watch Korea DPR and Uzbekistan. There had been a massive reshuffle of tickets as several people who had bought them on the expectation that Australia would be playing in Melbourne offloaded them to eager fans of the participating countries. The game itself was very exciting. The quality was variable with mistakes leading to many near things but both teams had definitely come to play. Nevertheless we had the first drawn game in the tournament at the end of 90 minutes. The stalemate was broken just before the first half of extra time end as Kim Jin Su of Korea robbed Shavkatjon Mulladjanov on the edge of the penalty area. Kim’s low cross was deflected and met by a diving header from Son Heung Min which sent the ball past the Uzbek keeper Ignatiy Nestorov. Nestorov otherwise had a fine game. The goal came in the 14th minute of the extra time period.

Uzbekistan had to go after an equalizing goal and it nearly came when Sardor Rashidov, another player who had an excellent match, put a shot wide from close range. Korean coach Ulli Stileke brought on popular full back Cha Du Ri as substitute and the veteran made a break down the right hand side ending with a delicious cross which Son Heung Min converted right at the death. Korea deserved its win that means it will face Iraq or Iran in a semi-final in Sydney on Monday.

As soon as the final whistle blew I returned to Bannockburn in time to catch the second half of Australia’s quarter-final with China in Brisbane. Andy Harper tells me that Ange Postecoglou used the Vietnam tournament story as part of ensuring that the Socceroos were in the right frame of mind before the game! As it was the first half was very tight, but I was settled in front of the box when Tim Cahill’s spectacular overhead kick put Australia ahead. Then he capped this with a Denis Law leap to head home a cross by Jason Davidson to ensure victory, also by two–nil. So Australia goes to Newcastle for its semi-final on Tuesday against Japan or the United Arab Emirates.

The other two quarter finals will be decided on Friday night. Iraq meets Iran in Canberra at 5.30 pm, followed by Japan and UAE in Sydney at 8.30 pm.


  1. I was at the Swan St Stadium for South Korea v Uzbekistan. Maybe I was caught up in the atmosphere, but that was the match you play for a philistine who tries to argue that nil-all games (in regulation time anyway) are boring.

    Despite the errors and missed opportunities, both teams went out with an attacking mindset and – cliché alert – really took the game on, which was a joy to see. It could easily have been 3-3 at the end of 90 minutes.

    Brilliant stuff from both sides. Commiserations to the Uzbeks, with fitness being the difference in the end.

  2. World football in a sudden death tournament has a real tension to it that keeps the game exciting. I really enjoyed the Australia-China game where we kept running at them, but other than Cahill lacked the finishing touch finesse. China played brilliantly once they were behind (made me wonder if there ‘sit back’ defensive mindset served them well?) Lots of times they were ‘almost through’ to get a goal back, but our defence stayed composed.
    The game had my heart in my mouth all night, and that is great for the future of the game here. I keep wondering that if the Sam Mitchells’ and Jonathon Thurstens’ all played the round ball game, could we rival the Europeans and South Americans?

  3. Steve and Peter
    The South Korea v Uzbekistan game was great to watch with the fans of both teams really deserving huge credit for creating such a brilliant atmosphere. Every move was cheered, or booed when anyone went down and stayed down, which happened much less frequently than in previous games. Both sides went for it which was good. The Australia v China game was a tactical battle. If you listened to the Australians after the game they all said that China gave them no space in the first half, but in the second gaps appeared and in those circumstances Timmy the magnificent can be lethal. As to the footy stars playing soccer, I suspect that many of them did when they were young, but peer pressure led to lots concentrating on AFL or ARL once they were a little older. If you don’t get a good grounding in soccer when you are young it is very hard to transfer into the game at any high level. Gary Ablett, senior, had a spell at Corio after his AFL career. While he could strike the round ball a country mile with venom, he could not pick up the other skill and tactical elements of the game easily. Now that soccer players can earn squillions overseas I wonder if the pool from which the Socceroos and Matildas draw is likely to increase. I don’t think this Asian Cup will have done any harm in opening youngsters eyes to the potential of the game as a sporting career.

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