Australia are on course for the Asian Cup title, but South Korea will be a ready, willing, and able opponent in Saturday’s final… (日本語版はこちらです)
There was always an expectation that Australia would be the team to beat at the Asian Cup, but with the Socceroos being defeated in their only real test in the group stage – going down 1-0 in Brisbane against South Korea – and still largely reliant on the aerial prowess of Tim Cahill, delivering on the expectation was always going to be difficult.
While the team hasn’t really hit the heights that many within the camp and local media suggest, Ange Postecoglou’s team did book its place in the final on Tuesday, striking twice in the first 14 minutes to defeat Japan’s conqueror UAE 2-0.
Despite that achievement, Cahill insisted after the win in Newcastle that nobody in the green and gold shirt was taking anything for granted.
“It wasn’t too upbeat, you know,” he said of the atmosphere in the dressing room post-match. “Everyone was straight on the massage tables and into the ice baths, and focusing now on one of the biggest games in Australian soccer history.”
Even so, confidence is coursing through the veins of the hosts – and in particular their talisman, who is never short on self-belief or a media-friendly soundbite.
“I’m not going to focus on Korea – I’ve never focused on any team we’ve played,” the former Everton and New York Red Bulls man added of Australia’s opponent in Saturday’s final.” I’m going to focus on us. If we dictate games with our intensity and the style of football we play, the way we move the ball, it’s going to be very hard for any team to play us. Congratulations to Korea, but it’s going to be all about us, the way we prepare.”
Cahill and his teammates missed out on top spot in Group A after defeat to the Taeguk Warriors in their final group game, but there is a belief that things will be different this time around.
“We know the mistakes we made in that game,” Massimo Luongo said of the loss on January 17th. “We don’t want to change too much because I think we dominated that game, and the way we play is going to give every team a problem.”
Mark Milligan agreed.
“The way that we want to play has not changed,” the former JEF United player told journalists after the win over UAE. “I think they have definitely improved since that match, as have we, so they will present different challenges than they did last game. They’ve been wonderful defensively, we know we’re going to have to be at our very best to break them down.”
One of the men responsible for breaking down the Emiratis on Tuesday was Jason Davidson, whose goal to double the Socceroos lead was his first national team strike.
“Every generation or every step in Australian football is pushing in one direction; that’s to grow the game in Australia,” the West Bromwich Albion defender said. “So now it’s up to us and this generation to help build that and push that forward.
“I left home at 14 and have been a professional footballer for a while now so I know what I have to do.”
Davidson is a quarter-Japanese and spent a period of time studying in Japan, but while he has an affection for the country he dismissed any suggestions that he would have preferred to face the Samurai Blue in a repeat of the 2011 final.
“Everyone knows about Japan and it’s a very respectful country,” he said. “It’s very disciplined and I have fond memories of being in Japan. For us our job is to win the Asian Cup. Whoever we play is going to be a tough opponent but for me I’m just happy we’ve done our job.”
Whether they can complete it at Stadium Australia against South Korea remains to be seen.