Here they meet again. After getting past Saudi Arabia on penalties in their first knockout match of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup in Qatar on Tuesday, Korea will go up against Australia in the quarterfinals Friday, a rematch of the final from 2015.The two AFC powers will renew their rivalry at Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakhra, south of Doha, at 6:30 p.m. Friday (local time), or 12:30 a.m. Saturday (Korean time).Wednesday marks the ninth anniversary of Australia’s 2-1 victory over Korea for the Asian Cup title as the host nation. Australia prevailed in extra time to deny Korea their first Asian Cup since 1960, and that drought has continued to this day.Back then, Korea were No. 69 in the FIFA rankings, while Australia were No. 100.Today, Korea are the third-highest ranked AFC side at No. 23 and Australia sit just two spots below. They may be close in their ranking positions, but their paths to the last eight couldn’t have been more different.The tournament has been a struggle for Korea, with their sheer talent on paper, thanks to the likes of Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min and Paris Saint-Germain playmaker Lee Kang-in, not translating to success on the pitch. They had a win and two draws to finish second in Group E while conceding six goals, despite being heavily favored to run the table against Bahrain, Jordan and Malaysia.
Then they needed a last-gasp equalizer by striker Cho Gue-sung to force a 1-1 draw against Saudi Arabia, and then two tournament-saving stops by goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo in the shootout to reach the quarters. Korea have netted nine goals and given up seven.Australia had two wins and a draw to finish atop Group B, and then easily handled Indonesia 4-0 in the round of 16. The Socceroos have conceded just one goal so far while netting eight. Australia will enter the showdown with two extra days of recovery time following their first knockout match. If Korea had won Group E, they would have had an additional day of rest before the quarterfinals, assuming they would have advanced that far. However, after getting held to a 3-3 draw by Malaysia, Korea fell to second place in Group E. That they played an extra 30-minute session, followed by the penalty shootout, against Saudi Arabia will only add to the physical and mental toll. Korea head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said after the Saudi Arabia win that he had wanted to win the group precisely because it would have given his team more recovery time.”Because we didn’t win the group, so we pay that price,” he said.Klinsmann claimed that the dramatic comeback victory over Saudi Arabia, as exhausting as it might have been, will provide his team with “an enormous amount of energy and even more spirit.””This is a group of players that I personally, as a coach, enjoy so much working with, because they badly want to do well for their country,” Klinsmann said. “They have a lot of heart, and that’s what they showed in the second half.”
Korea will need much more than heart to beat Australia. Their head coach Graham Arnold said Sunday, after sending Indonesia home, his team has kept improving as the tournament has worn on.”For us, we’ve got younger players in there, a lot of players that can develop, and obviously, we’ve got a good experienced group as well,” he said. “I feel like it’s all falling into place. Obviously, it’s really important that we topped the group, and we keep that standard really high. And obviously, you can see on the pitch, the quality is there. We just need to believe we can go all the way.”The two countries’ last Asian Cup meeting was far enough back in the past that few players are still with their teams. For Australia, only goalkeeper Mathew Ryan and defender Aziz Behich are back. Ryan, named the best goalkeeper of the 2015 Asian Cup, is now Australia’s captain. Behich, who appeared in two matches at the 2015 tournament, has started all four matches so far at age 33.Korea’s returning players are all key members of the squad: captain Son Heung-min, center back Kim Young-gwon and left back Kim Jin-su. Son and Kim Young-gwon are mainstays, while Kim Jin-su would be, too, if not for a left calf injury that has limited him to just one appearance as a substitute.Goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu was also on the 2015 squad, but he was sent home from Qatar after one match due to a knee injury sustained during training.One key player for Korea from that team, Cha Duri, is now an assistant coach under Klinsmann. Two others who played in that final, winger Park Joo-ho and forward 스포츠토토존 Lee Keun-ho, are working as commentators for a Korean cable station and a local streaming service, respectively.