Hosts Australia and success-starved South Korea reached the Asian Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday, although Korean joy was tempered by injuries to key players and a flu bug sapping their squad.
Australia dispatched Oman 4-0 with ruthless efficiency in Sydney, making it eight goals in two games.
A team which managed just a single victory in 11 matches last year has caught fire at the Asian Cup and they put Oman to the sword boosted by two goals in three first-half minutes.
South Korea, World Cup semi-finalists in 2002 but seeking to end 55 years of hurt in Asia’s showcase competition, laboured to a 1-0 win over Kuwait to join Australia in the last eight.
The Australians picked up where they left off after thrashing Kuwait 4-1 in the tournament opener, Matt McKay poking in from close range in the 27th minute before Robbie Kruse, who was a blur of movement all evening, added a superb second with Australia’s next attack.
Latching onto a clever flick from Massimo Luongo, Kruse trapped the ball on his thigh before clinically sweeping past Oman goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi.
Mark Milligan, in for injured skipper Mile Jedinak, smashed home a penalty in first-half injury time and substitute Tomi Juric made it four with the pick of the bunch with a sharp finish after 70 minutes.
“The players were fantastic,” gushed Australia coach Ange Postecoglou, who has seen eight different players score in their first two games and promised no let-up in their final Group A game against the South Koreans at the weekend.
– ‘Go for it!’ –
“They were outstanding tonight and we won’t have the hand-brake on against Korea. We’ll be going for it.”
The Socceroos will be grateful that talisman Tim Cahill did not join Jedinak in the treatment room, however, after he was chopped down by a shocking two-footed lunge from Ahmed Mubarak.
Incensed Australian players surrounded Japanese referee Ryuji Sato demanding a red card but Mubarak astonishingly escaped with a yellow, raising further questions over the standard of officiating after several controversies early in the competition.
South Korea advanced courtesy of a Nam Tae-Hee header in the 36th minute.
But the news that midfielder Lee Chung-Yong will miss the rest of the tournament after suffering a fractured tibia cast a shadow over their win against 1980 champions Kuwait in Canberra.
“It’s a big loss because he’s a player with a lot of experience,” said South Korea coach Uli Stielike. “I saw a lot of sad faces around him when we had to take this decision to send him home. But you have to go on.”
Right-back Kim Chang-Soo also failed to recover from a knock in time, while German Stielike also has illness concerns with several of his players floored by a fever, including superstar Son Heung-Min.
The Koreans, who won the first two Asian Cups in 1956 and 1960, have their work cut out to end that mystifying drought with Australia flying and defending champions Japan impressing in their opening game. – Agence France-Presse