Substitute James Troisi smashed home a dramatic extra-time winner as Australia beat South Korea 2-1 to win their first Asian Cup title in an electrifying final on Saturday.
Troisi broke Korean hearts with the very last kick in the first extra period after Son Heung-Min had snatched a magical injury-time equaliser at the end of normal time.
Australia’s triumph gave them a first title since defecting from Oceania nine years ago, while South Korea’s anguish continued after they failed to break a hoodoo in the tournament stretching back to 1960.
“It was a super effort from everyone,” said Australia coach Ange Postecoglou. “It was a final, it never goes to script. It was tough, you’ve got to grind it out and the courage the players showed tonight was enormous.”
“I knew we’d finish stronger,” he added, before shaking the hands of the devastated Korean players.
“We pride ourselves on being very fit and it was just a matter of taking our chance. I’m super-proud of them. Hopefully from now on, us Aussies can take on the world because I have a real belief in these guys.”
Australia’s historical triumph vindicated Postecoglou’s decision to overhaul the team after its “golden generation” passed their prime.
It could also further antagonise countries said to be behind a movement to oust Australia from the Asian confederation after shock revelations in the build-up to the final.
The Socceroos, runners-up to Japan in 2011, had been on the brink of victory thanks to a fierce strike from Massimo Luongo on the stroke of half-time, which triggered wild celebrations from the waves of fans in green and gold in a crowd of 76,000.
But South Korea’s superstar Son produced a moment of sheer brilliance in injury time, bursting through to fire past goalkeeper Mathew Ryan after a clever flick from captain Ki Sung-Yueng.
Australia, the Asian Cup‘s top scorers with 14 goals, were forced to dig deep in a reversal of the group meeting between the two sides earlier in the tournament, which was dominated by Australia but won 1-0 by the Koreans.
– Bruising final –
Australian captain Mile Jedinak set the tone for a bruising final when he clattered Son during the early skirmishes, and right-back Ivan Franjic was then booked for a crude foul on Park Joo-Ho.
Defender Kwak Tae-Hwi headed a Ki free kick wastefully wide after 24 minutes before Tim Cahill, making possibly his last appearance in a Socceroos shirt, forced a smart save from goalkeeper Kim Jin-Hyeon as both teams came out of their shell.
Son, Australia’s tormentor-in-chief, almost broke the deadlock when he lashed a left-foot volley just over the bar as South Korea pushed hard for the opening goal.
But then Luongo, who has been a revelation for the Australians and was deservedly voted player of the tournament, wriggled free to blast a long-range drive past Kim’s despairing dive.
It was the first goal South Korea had conceded in the tournament on their way to a first final in 27 years.
Korean pin-up Son pounced in show-stopping fashion, drilling a left-foot shot past Ryan before celebrating with the massed ranks of “Red Devils” fans behind the Australian goal.
But in extra time, Tomi Juric picked Kim Jin-Su’s pocket and when his cross was pushed out by Kim Jin-Hyeon, fellow substitute Troisi belted the ball into the roof of the net.
The Korean players, who had surpassed expectations after the squad was ravaged by injuries and sickness during the tournament, slumped to the turf in tears at the final whistle.
“I don’t agree we are not champions,” said South Korea coach Uli Stielike. “We don’t have the cup but the way our players played today we are the champions of a lot of hearts.
“I will tell you something in Korean because it comes deep from the heart — I wrote it down,” added the German, unfolding a piece of paper. “Korea you can be proud of your boys!”
Loud booing directed at FIFA president Sepp Blatter and Asian football chiefs as Australia’s players collected their prize mattered little to the winners, who did a lap of honour wearing shirts emblazoned with “Champions 15” on the back. – Agence France-Presse