So after 30 games, 257 shots on target, 178 saves and 77 goals, we’re down to one final meaningful game in the AFC Asian Cup — Australia against South Korea (live on One World Sports and DishWorld at 4am ET/1am PT on Saturday).
South Korea, aka the Taeguk Warriors, have progressed through to the final without having conceding a goal whilst the Socceroos have powered through playing an energetic, intense brand of soccer.
From a South Korean perspective, reaching the final is somewhat of a surprise given the state of the national team after last year’s World Cup debacle. For that achievement, immense credit must go to Uli Stielike whose understated yet demanding approach appears to have coaxed the best out of his squad. He never got carried away with any one victory, pointing out areas for improvements whilst highlighting the strengths of his outfit.
Over in the Australian camp, Ange Postecoglou has prepared his troops well, identifying the key strengths of his personnel and setting up a system to maximize the home team’s effectiveness. Their all-action approach has seen the Aussies overwhelm their opponents with one notable exception, the South Koreans.
Programming note: For viewers in the United States, the tournament is being shown exclusively on One World Sports and DishWorld. Even if you don’t have a TV subscription to One World Sports, you can access the channel via online streaming service DishWorld for $10/month. Sign up for DishWorld via their website.
South Korea’s path to the final:
Drawn in Group A with Australia, the Taeguk Warriors started the tournament off relatively slowly and in rather unconvincing fashion. Though three 1-0 score lines suggests a relatively serene passage through to the knockouts, the reality has been anything but. They were lackluster in their opening match against Oman, could have conceivably lost against a spirited Kuwaiti team and though they beat Australia in their last Group A encounter, Stielike’s side did present Australia with some clear cut opportunities to score.
Throughout the group phase, Stielike was searching for the right blend, chopping and changing his starting eleven trying to find an element of fluency that would stabilize his team. In mitigation, Stielike has had to contend with the loss to injury of Lee Chung-yong and Koo Ja-cheol.
The quarters saw South Korea escape against Uzbekistan as the latter wasted two gilt-edged opportunities to score and potentially knock the former out. However, South Korea did demonstrate their staying power and managed to grind out a 2-0 win courtesy of a brace from Son Heung-min. Stielike’s intelligent substitutions exploited the tiring Uzbeks and it was no surprise that the relatively fresh Cha Du-ri, who came on in the 70th minute, was able to power past the Uzbekistani backline to set-up Son for South Korea’s second.