THE critics said that Australia’s next generation was simply not good enough, so it was fitting that two of them gifted Australia their first ever Asian Cup win.
Goals from Massimo Luongo and James Troisi welcomed Australia’s seemingly bright future, but it was by no means easy, as Korea, the perennial banana skin this tournament, snatched a 91st minute equaliser to send the game into extra-time.
Spurred on by over 76,000 fans at ANZ Stadium, the Socceroos lifted a gear in the extra period, but they should have got the job done in the 90 minutes.
South Korea had the Socceroos on their heels at times, with their pace proving a challenge to the Socceroos defence. But a moment of magic suddenly swung the match, when Massimo Luongo provided a stunning strike seconds before half-time.
It was a lead you could argue they didn’t deserve with South Korea peppering the Australian goal just moments before.
Luongo shrugged off his defender and fired a rocket into the right hand corner of the net, beating the outstretched Kim Jin Hyeon for the first time this tournament from 20 yards.
The goal settled Ange Postecoglou’s men and they came out much more organised in the second half. They had their moments in which they could have added a second goal, but as is customary for the Socceroos they made their life difficult, clocking off at the back at a pivotal time, allowing Son Heung-Min to pounce.
Heung Min was the chief instigator for the Koreans all night and the Bayer Leverkusen star should not have left it so late, with the midfielder blowing at least two chances, both agonisingly over the crossbar.
Heung Min was at the centre of everything South Korea created and looked dangerous all night. Korea continued to target Australia’s right side defence, with Ivan Franjic forced to work overtime and the Torpedo Moscow defender was walking a tightrope, having picked up a yellow card earlier in the match.
This was to be a victory the Socceroos had to grit their teeth to secure.
Ange Postecoglou replaced Tim Cahill with Tom Juric at the 62 minute mark to freshen up the side.
Postecoglou’s strategy was thrown out the window soon after, and with a number of players on yellow cards, the Australian manager was forced to substitute Robbie Kruse and Ivan Franjic through injury.
James Troisi and Matt McKay were sent on with Mark Milligan shifting to right back to cover for Franjic.
After giving their lead up once, the Socceroos did not do it again. Led brilliantly at the back by Trent Sainsbury, who was again crowned man of the match, and with Mile Jedinak proving the rock in midfield, Australia showed the steel needed to protect their lead until the end.
The 2015 Asian Cup has been a resounding success and not just on the field. We lift the trophy high, but we also celebrate the legacy that football will leave. Nights like this are special, but they are also few and far between.
The Socceroos performance ensures that Australia has fallen back in love with its national football team and that more nights like these may be in their future.
Australia 2 (Massimo Luongo 45, James Troisi 105) bt Korea Republic 1 (Son Heung-Min 90+1) at ANZ Stadium.Crowd: 76,385 Referee: Alireza Faghani