Sweet 16 for South Korea, China, as Socceroos bounce back

Kim Min-jae of South Korea scores the winning goal in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup group C match against Kyrgyzstan in Al Ain. (EPA)
Updated 11 January 2019
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Sweet 16 for South Korea, China, as Socceroos bounce back

  • The Koreans, runners-up in 2015, squeezed past Kyrgyzstan 1-0 thanks to a Kim Min-jae strike just before half-time
  • A Wu Lei-inspired China comfortably beat a Philippines side led by China coach Marcelo Lippi’s old adversary Sven-Goran Eriksson 3-0

AL-AIN, United Arab Emirates: South Korea and China ensured their places in the Asian Cup last 16 on Friday after continuing their perfect starts as Australia reignited their title defense with a vital win over Palestine.
The Koreans, runners-up in 2015, squeezed past Kyrgyzstan 1-0 thanks to a Kim Min-jae strike just before half-time while a Wu Lei-inspired China comfortably beat 3-0 a Philippines side led by China coach Marcelo Lippi’s old adversary Sven-Goran Eriksson.
South Korea and China are level on six points at the top of Group C ahead of their group-decider on Wednesday and join Jordan in the knockout stages of the Asian showpiece, which features 24 teams for the first time.
South Korea were made to sweat once again by minor opposition following their opening single-goal win over the Philippines.
But they will be glad to be safely through without the services of Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min, who sat out the first two games under a deal with the Premier League club.
Kyrgyzstan caused some anxious moments for South Korea in the first half, especially from corners with Bekzhan Sagynbaev having one effort saved at point-blank range.
At the other end, Lee Chung-yong blazed a glorious chance over and Koo Ja-cheol had a goal-bound shot punched away by goalkeeper Kutman Kadyrbekov — in for Pavel Matiash, who was guilty of a howling own goal in their defeat to China.
From the resulting corner, defender Min-jae lost his marker and was first to the ball at the near post, where he made no mistake to put the Koreans ahead.
After the break, Akhlidin Israilov appealed vigorously for handball after Jung Woo-young’s block, while Hwang Ui-jo twice hit the bar — first with a header that bounced down and off the line, and then a fierce shot that was parried upwards by Kadyrbekov.
There was disbelief when Hwang Hee-chan rattled the crossbar once again for the Koreans, and it could easily have ended 1-1 if Kim Seung-gyu hadn’t blocked Tursunali Rustamov’s stinging shot in injury time.
Earlier in Abu Dhabi, Wu Lei fired the first of his brace for China five minutes before half-time, turning on the edge of the box and whipping a right-foot shot into the far corner.
His second was even better as he swivelled to slam a Hao Junmin free-kick past Philippines goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard on the volley after 66 minutes to effectively end the match.
Substitute Yu Dabao added a third with his first touch 10 minutes from time for China, who are hoping to improve on their quarter-final finish in Australia four years ago.
“If we can continue to play like that we have nothing to fear from any team at this Asian Cup,” said Lippi, who led Italy to the 2006 World Cup and sparred with Eriksson in his Serie A days.
In Dubai, coach Graham Arnold warned Australia would only improve as the defending champions saw off Palestine 3-0 to move within sight of the knockouts.
Goals from Hibernian striker Jamie Maclaren, Awer Mabil and substitute Apostolos Giannou banished memories of the shock opening defeat to Jordan as Australia went second in Group B.
The Aussies will now go into next Tuesday’s final group game against Syria with their confidence fully restored.
“Now it’s all about the Syria game,” said Arnold.
“We’ll go back to the training field, we’ll recover well and we’ll go out for the Syria game with all guns blazing, expecting to win.
“I expect we will get better and better as we go.”


Late winner dumps Syria out of Asian Cup following survival of the fittest battle against Socceroos

Updated 15 January 2019
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Late winner dumps Syria out of Asian Cup following survival of the fittest battle against Socceroos

  • Syria boss left to rue side's lack of stamina as Aussie hit last-minute winner.
  • Result dumped Syria out of the tournament.

AL-AIN: Syria were left to lament that they came off second best in a survival of the fittest battle against the Socceroos.  

That was the opinion of the side’s stand-in coach Fajr Ibrahim who felt that there was not much to separate the two sides in terms of ability, but claimed the Aussies were able to win 3-2 due to their superior fitness levels. 

The defeat dumped Syria out of the Asian Cup at the first hurdle, and Ibrahim, who took charge foolowing Bernd Stange's shock  sacking following their defeat by Jordan, was left to rue his players’ lack of stamina compared to their Australian opponents. 

"Fitness was the critical factor," Ibrahim said.

"There wasn't a big difference apart from the fitness of the Australian team. They were superior.”

Considering the league that the majority of the Socceroos play in compared to the Syrians, the coach was probably right when talkng about the fitness levels of the two sides. In which case he had every right to be proud of his players. They only fell to defeat by virtue of a Tom Rogic's injury-time thunderbolt.

The result meant the Socceroos finished second in Group B behind Jordan, whose simultaneous 0-0 draw with Palestine gave the Palestinians hope of qualifying as one of the best third-placed teams.

Syria, vocally backed by thousands of their fans in Ai-Ain, twice fought back from a goal behind before Rogic slammed home the winner in the third minute of injury time.

Injury-hit Australia, with only six outfield players on the bench, needed just a draw to go through and they got there — but there were twists along the way.

“It was a helter-skelter game at times,” Australia coach Graham Arnold said.

“On another night we could've scored more goals but it was a great learning process for our young players. It was a good performance just in terms of the grit and determination.”

Syria looked an early threat before Australia started to get a grip on the game and Hibernian striker Jamie Maclaren flashed a header just wide.

There was drama on the half-hour when a Syrian free-kick bounced through a packed penalty area and into the net, but the goal was ruled out for a foul on Mark Milligan.

But Australia were getting close and Awer Mabil, after seeing one raking shot blocked, unleashed a fabulous effort which curled into the top corner four minutes before half-time.

However, the lead lasted just two minutes as Mouaiad Alajaan's cross picked out birthday boy Omar Khrbin, turning 25 on Tuesday, who saw his header saved by Brighton's Mathew Ryan but then gobbled up the rebound.

On 54 minutes, there was controversy when Chris Ikonomidis's shot was hooked away by Omar Al Midani — but the ball was judged to have crossed the line by the additional assistant referee, who was surrounded by Syrian players.

The incident silenced the massed ranks of Syrian fans but there was uproar around the stadium shortly afterwards when their team vehemently claimed a penalty for a Milligan handball.

Australia looked firmly in control and they could have had a third goal when substitute Apostolos Giannou saw a low shot cannon off the base of the upright.

But Mexican referee Cesar Ramos threw Syria a lifeline when he gave them a penalty after Omar Al Soma went down in the box — and the striker stroked them level once more with 10 minutes to go.

It looked like Syria would escape with a vital point before Celtic's Rogic, playing the tournament with a broken hand, belted Australia's third from distance.