SYDNEY: Australia’s Socceroos won the Asian Cup for the first time after beating Southg Korea 2-1 in extra-time in Sydney.
Victory came against a turbulent backdrop with a number of Gulf states apparently stepping up pressure to have Australia kicked back to Oceania from which it ‘escaped’ in 2006.
The Cup hosts led through Massimo Luongo’s stunning first-half drive and that looked to have done enough to land the trophy at Stadium Australia until Son Heung-min levelled two minutes into stoppage time to send the final into the extra half-hour.
The Socceroos refused to let their heads drop and James Troisi popped up after 105 minutes to strike the decisive goal and secure their first-ever confederation title, having lost out to Japan in extra-time in the 2011 final.
South Korea, who were targeting a third Asian Cup triumph, had beaten Australia 1-0 in the group stages but it was the home side who came close to breaking the deadlock after nine minutes through a Mile Jedinak free-kick, which found a route past goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyeon but dipped on to the roof of the net.
A scrappy spell of play followed but things improved after 24 minutes when Kwak Tae-hwi headed a free-kick from Ki Sung-yueng just past the post.
The Socceroos responded within minutes as Robbie Kruse played the ball into the path of TIm Cahill, but the former Everton man saw his shot denied by Kim.
The match was offering plenty of entertainment now and the Koreans had their best chance of the half after 37 minutes through Son, who tried his luck on the volley and missed his target by inches.
Australia took full advantage of the let-off on the stroke of half-time when Luongo was teed up by Trent Sainsbury before turning and firing a spectacular 25-yard bullet into the bottom corner.
South Korea turned up the heat early in the second half but their opponents’ defence held firm as Lee Jung-hyup and Park Joo-ho wasted chances to equalise.
They were almost caught on the break on the hour, with Kruse supplying Mathew Leckie for a powerful drive which had to be helped over the bar by Kim.
That merely served to spur Korea on, although the final ball proved disappointing on more than one occasion while a free-kick from Son sailed high of the mark.
Time was running out for the Koreans, who began pumping long balls into the box in a bid to get the goal they so badly needed. And that goal arrived two minutes into stoppage time from Son, who darted into the area before slipping the ball past Mat Ryan in the Australia net and ending the match into extra-time.
The pace dropped thereafter as legs began to tire and that may have been a factor in Jedinak shooting wide when well-placed to turn in the rebound from Kim’s punched clearance after 100 minutes.
The tournament hosts fared much better 10 minutes later, though, when Kim again tried to clear a cross from Tomi Juric but the ball went only as far as Troisi, who slammed the return into the roof of the net to send the Stadium Australia crowd into raptures