Australia and South Korea are the favorites to meet in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup final but Australia must dismiss the United Arab Emirates to book a place in the final against the Korea team that defeated Iraq 2-0 earlier on Monday.
Of the four quarter-finals, only Australia came through their match without the need for extra-time. Iraq, South Korea and the UAE on the other hand were all involved in absorbing and draining encounters.
The final is only one game away; the question is which two teams will make it through?
Australia go into this game (televised on Tuesday at 4am ET on One World Sports) as favorites but they will be wary of a talented United Arab Emirates side whom Carlos Queiroz has described as the best soccer team in West Asia.
Both teams finished second in their groups losing their final group games and it appears that the pair learned lessons in their defeats. Australia over-powered China in their quarterfinal win whilst the Emiratis produced a brave, intelligent performance to down the defending champions Japan.
In terms of performers, the obvious showdown would be between Australia’s veteran inspiration Tim Cahill and Omar Abdulrahman the man dubbed the Emirati Maradona by former Socceroo Robbie Slater.
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South Korea 2 – 0 Uzbekistan (after extra time)
The pair had contrasting quarterfinal experiences with Cahill turning in a match-winning performance with two strikes against China whilst Abdulrahman was effectively shackled by the Japanese in what has thus far been his most disappointing game. That said the UAE star still had the confidence and cheek to execute a Panenka in the penalty shootout against the Samurai Blue.
However, it would be unfair to single out those two as the only threats. Ali Mabkhout has found the net in the Asian Cup four times including that crucial strike against Japan. Robbie Kruse, Mathew Leckie and Massimo Luongo have impressed for the home nation as the tournament has progressed.
At the back the respective keepers Mat Ryan and Majed Naser have been solid whilst both sets of defenses have been relatively well marshaled and disciplined. It is worth noting that the UAE have not kept a clean sheet in the Asian Cup.
As with the previous match, the United Arab Emirates won’t have to force the play and will have to option of sitting deep and hitting on the break. The combination of Abdulrahman and Mabkhout has been a fruitful one so the Australians will have to keep an eye on those two. It’ll be interesting to see if Ange Postecoglou will have a specific plan to counteract the creative threat posed by Omar Abdulrahman.
The Socceroos though will not be afraid of playing on the front foot and will pose a lot of problems if the attacking trio of Cahill, Kruse and Leckie fire. However their most important player for this game at least could be captain Mile Jedinak. The Crystal Palace man is a great reader of the game who possesses a knack of intercepting passes and breaking up the opposition’s rhythm. However he didn’t enjoy the best of games against China after recovering from an ankle injury. Jedinak will need to be back to his best as he will be key in stymieing the UAE attack.
That said, the Socceroos will need to take the goal scoring burden off of Tim Cahill. If the UAE backline effectively cancel him out of the game it’s tough to see who else will provide the goal threat.
The semi will be played in Newcastle and the state of the pitch there has come under scrutiny so that may have an effect on the pattern of game with both teams possibly opting to play in a more direct manner.
Both teams will welcome back players from suspension. Walid Abbas and Matthew Spiranovic are available for selection for the UAE and Australia respectively.
This match will be the first competitive game between Australia and the UAE. Aussie intensity versus UAE class so who will emerge victorious? Fatigue shouldn’t play too much of a role though Australia had an extra day to recover.
In the end, it’s hard to see past Australia though the UAE have shown they are more than capable of upsetting the apple cart. Playing at home could provide Australia with the crucial edge.
Prediction: Australia 2-1 UAE (after extra time)