While the Caltex Socceroos are preparing to fly to Antalya in Turkey on Saturday to begin their 2019 AFC Asian Cup journey with a training camp, Asian rivals the Korea Republic are already deep into an important competition of their own.
Graham Arnold’s team will meet the Taegeuk Warriors at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on November 17 as part of both team’s road to the United Arab Emirates, where Australia will defend the AFC Asian Cup title they clinched in Sydney in 2015.
Korea Republic will take a different route to the UAE. They are already deep into the football tournament at the Asian Games, a multi-sport event held every four years.
The story so far
After Hwang Ui-jo’s hat-trick helped see off Bahrain 6-0 in Korea’s opening game of the four-team Group E, they suffered a slip up against Malaysia, losing 2-1 in Bandung.
That left them needing a victory over Kyrgyzstan to go through in second-place. Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min proved to be the difference maker, grabbing the only goal of a tense 1-0 win.
Paulo Bento's men produced a more comfortable display in a 2-0 Round of 16 win against Iran, which set up a crunch last eight clash against Uzbekistan.
Going for gold
A closely-fought quarter-final ended in dramatic fashion in the stifling humidity of West Java.
Son gave the Taegeuk Warriors the perfect start, a mazy run ended with the Spurs star teeing up tournament top goalscorer Hwang to put Korea a goal to the good.
A defensive lapse allowed Jaloliddin Masharipov to hit back for the Uzbeks, but Korea Republic regained the lead before half-time when Hwang netted his seventh goal of the Games from distance.
More concentration errors blighted Korea and, in two second-half minutes, Ikromjon Alibaev swung the match in Uzbekistan’s favour when he was left open to equalise before a huge deflection on his long-range effort made it 3-2 on 55 minutes.
Hwang completed his hat-trick to level at 3-3 on 75 minutes, taking a rollercoaster match to extra-time. Alibaev then went from two-goal hero to villain, seeing red for a second booking, as Uzbekistan looked to ride out the game towards a penalty shootout.
But with the clock ticking down, the dangerman Hwang was brought down in the area, allowing Hwang Hee-chan to convert a high-pressure spot-kick on 118 minutes to seal a 4-3 victory and a place in the final four.
Korea Republic goes into their semi-final match against Vietnam at 7.00pm this evening (Wednesday) in Cibinong as favourites, but an energy-sapping quarter-final only two days early may take its toll.
Fortunately for them, Vietnam also needed 120 minutes to down Syria by a 1-0 score-line, which may prove to be a neutraliser.
Japan meets the United Arab Emirates in the other semi-final, ahead of the bronze medal and gold medal matches at Pakansari Stadium on Saturday.