Asian Cup Final: Australia won, because that’s what Australians do

From the beginning, Australia’s Asian Cup was full of hope rather than expectation, and it delivered in almost every way. Crowds from the host cities along our east coast embraced the entertaining group stage matches that would offer the unpredictability inherent in Asian football. Not one draw was played out in the 24 preliminary matches, a remarkable statistic which was indicative of the attacking approach most teams – especially the underdogs – took to each game. The knockout stages threw up surprises; Japan losing to the UAE at the first hurdle, and the dramatic Iran vs Iraq encounter resulting in Iran exiting prematurely.

After those omissions, all roads led to an Australia vs Korea Republic final. Korea hadn’t conceded a goal in the 450 minutes they’d played, while Australia – after the dependence on Tim Cahill had just about crippled the team’s confidence over the last 18 months – produced more scorers in the tournament than it had non-Cahill goals in all of 2014.

With Postecoglou’s possession-based style contrasting the strength and resistance of Korea’s defence, as well pace in attack, the game would surely be played largely on Australia’s boot, where that Korean back 4 could absorb the pressure and look to slingshot their way past Australia in attack.

Both sides got off to a cagey and nervous start, before the intensity lifted a notch. On 36 minutes, the Socceroos became statues in defence and were very nearly punished by Son Heung Min who volleyed a shot inches over the bar, and then almost guided a shot on target following more exploitation of inept Australian defending on the flanks. The aggression that Australia always brings to the table bordered on crossing the line, and the aim became clinging on to parity until the break.

And somehow, against the run of play and – not for the first time in the tournament – in the face of the readjusted expectations, Australia scored. Trent Sainsbury, Australia’s finest defensive prospect for years, penetrated the first line of Korea’s doubly packed defence with a piercing, direct pass to Massimo Luongo, who, with his back to goal, turned with the ball on his laces, nudged it slightly in front of himself and drove a shot into the bottom right corner of the goal. It was stunning, because of how Luongo – a previously unheralded part of League One’s Swindon Town – managed to find the space away from the perennially tight Korean defence, and then the space between the ‘keeper and his left post, which seemed to be accounted for.

Such was the thirst from each Socceroo to be part of history, and make sure they could help their team over the line, that Robbie Kruse – reduced to tears by what appeared to be a serious Achilles tendon injury – briefly rose to his feet and staggered onto the pitch to try and hold up his end, fulfil his role. It was in vain, and he had to be carted off on a stretcher just as Ivan Franjic collapsed in agony, crouching with an indescribably painful look etched on his face. He too made a courageous effort to prove his fitness by demonstrating to the physios just off to the side of the pitch that he was still able to run. His night ended there.

With 4 of Australia’s 5 most recognised on-field defenders on a yellow card, the already feverous tension was made close to unbearable every time one of them contested for a ball. Every successful pass yielded cheers, and Korean possession brought silence from the Australian contingent and the recognisably excited squeal of the visiting fans.

Then, the unthinkable. After expectations had been readjusted again, for the stadium was full of yellow shirts jumping up and down in delirium, with a win just minutes away, the defence vanished, and South Korea pounced. I haven’t actually seen the goal, because as soon as I saw the lack of Australian shirts and abundance of Koreans, I agonised, shut my eyes and heard the squeal fill Stadium Australia.

At the start of extra time I said that if we were to win I would buy the DVD of the match and watch it over and over, savouring the moments of glory and remembering with some fondness how angry I was when they sent it to extra time, however equally thankful they did because it ultimately prolonged the joyful experience of the DVD. If we were to lose, however, it will become another Lucas Neill moment.

One substitution Australian fans were eager to make in extra time was for the referee, who had embarked on enforcing unkind interpretations of most of the rulebook by the 100 minute mark. Right on half-time of extra time, Tomi Juric was gallantly protecting the ball from two South Korean defenders at the meeting of the penalty box and touchline. He was fouled thrice, but the referee failed to spot any of them, and Juric brilliantly nutmegged one defender, fired a low ball across the face of goal, which was well parried by Korea’s ‘keeper, but fell into the path of James Troisi, who could barely believe his luck. Forget squealing, cue yelling, shouting, roaring Australians who thought that their dream had been torn away from them yet again.

And, quickly, the mood returned to jubilant anxiety. Australia were getting more chances than they had previously mustered because of the numbers Korea planted in their front half. The risk, obviously, was being exposed when having to backtrack. With so many players walking the tightrope, one clip from behind brings about a red card and making an already strenuous task of retaining a lead for the final 10 minutes close to unmanageable.

Surely Korea couldn’t find another goal, surely. Their persistence had embodied a fighting spirit not seen in opposition to the Socceroos, but lightning couldn’t strike twice. And it didn’t. Australia won. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t ‘Ange’, but in the same breath it was ‘Ange’, because it was a win. That’s what Ange does, and that’s what Australians do.

About Tom Riordan

Tom Riordan is in his second year of a Bachelor of Journalism at Swinburne University. He loves all sports, and plays for Brunswick Cricket Club. He supports the Western Bulldogs and can be found on weekends among half a dozen others in Q38 on the top level of the MCC.


  1. Good one Tom. I loved the game which was edge of the seat for 120 minutes. For a whole lot of reasons, but in the end because Ange put his faith in “the plan” and the new generation – and they came through.
    Bresciano left on the bench as a light of other days. Cahill subbed after 60 minutes because his brilliance can no longer be matched with a work rate.
    When SK equalised I thought we were done, such was their dominance in general play in the first 90 minutes. Luongo’s goal was a brilliant aberration against the run of play. I thought we had spent all our pennies.
    But it was the opposite – we kept running at them in extra time and they seemed to run out of legs and adventure.
    Troisi scored but it was Juric’s goal with his tenacious refusal to give up possession surrounded by defenders and twice pushed to the ground. In that moment I could see all of Ange’s planning, persistence and blooding youngsters of the last year come to pass.
    If you build it, they will come.
    Our defence stood solid in the last 15 minutes and I always felt we had their measure. Milligan, Spiranovic, Jedinak were just so steady and reliable. Sainsbury is headed for the top leagues in the game.
    AFL and NRL and the moribund ARU should be very afraid. The world game has so much to offer.
    If Tony Abbott is offering gongs to Greeks then surely Sir Ange has a nice ring to it?

  2. cowshedend says

    Great work Tom, amazing stat that the 24 prelim rounds didn’t yield a draw. Even without the wonderful final , the tournament was an amazing spectacle.

  3. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Terrific piece Tom. You did remarkably well to get it in so early!
    Last night was a turning point in the history of Australian Sport. The new generation, led by Ange Postecoglou, has spoken and acted, loud and clear.
    No other sport in this country comes close to representing multicultural Australia like the Socceroos.
    Congrats to the lads and the fans who kept believing way before soccer started to become hip. A win for the true believers and the new believers.

  4. Very pleased to re-live an engrossing match through your words Tom. Thanks.

  5. First class piece Tom. You capture the mood and the atmosphere brilliantly. You will go far young man.


  6. Tom Riordan says

    Thanks for the kind words fellas, much appreciated

  7. Like Fearless Phil D I agree that this will be the changing face of sport in Australia.
    Now to change the bloody flag!
    And of course Aussie, Aussie, Aussie oi oi oi
    Great stuff Tom and we are also winning the replay!

  8. Great report on the game Tom.

  9. Dennis Gedling says

    I was going to try and put together an article bestowing the virtues of this tournament but so many great articles have been written these past 3 weeks I couldn’t possibly add anything more.

    The timing of this event with the people from Middle Eastern countries at games showing their love of both their adoptive country and where they came from came at just the right time following events in both Paris and Sydney. It was the images we wanted to see rather than ones of extremist views.

    I’ve seen this team play on four continents and witnessed some euphoric moments (Kaisterslautern, 16/11/05 etc) and some monumental bed shitting (Iran, Germany in Durban) but last night made it all worth it in so many ways. We have been more than blessed these past 10 years under the Lowy regime and god knows what else Ange can get this team to do.

    And a West Australian also won the man of the match. Bonus.

  10. Gregor Lewis says

    Late to the party but no less enthusiastic.
    Pacy, evocative read Tom. You have a way with words and structure that effortlessly takes this reader back to the moments you describe – a smooth conduit to all ‘the feels … and squeals’ of Saturday night.

    Maybe I’m too demanding, but as soon as the World Cup finished, my expectations for this tournament were nothing short of victory. After the first S.Korea match those expectations remained undiminished. After 90 minutes of the rematch – and maybe this is indicative of the trust ole A.P Cocker has been able to engender, or just sheer bloody mindedness on my part – there they were.

    ‘Bite down lads.’

    And they did … exactly what was expected.

    Please sirs, may I have some more.

    ***A special note on Sainsbury. A skillful, fluent game reading centre-back, with the confidence to advance the ball, and the skill to thread between the lines and beyond them, encouraging perpetual forward momentum is such a gift, especially after years of poseurs and prima-donna’s barely approximating such an important aspect of world class football in our nation’s name & colours. What a thrill it was to see Ange set him free, and then watch Sainsbury fly!***

  11. Very observant, a good read. Although James Troisi looked for the accolades, I thought it was the result of Tomi Juric’s effort in playing from the goalline and beating two defenders. He deserves more recognition for his play.

    I too was worried that the referee would produce a red card at any minute.

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