Australia's Asian Cup Opponents: South Korea
Australia's second group C opponents are one of the favourites for the tournament
South Korea are one of Australia-s main rivals in this year-s AFC Asian Cup. Ranked third behind Australia and Japan, they-ll be sure to pose a stern test when the two sides meet in the group stages and you wouldn-t want to bet too much against them meeting again in the final of the competition.
Ranked 39th in the official FIFA rankings, they-re sure to be amongst the sides bidding to take the trophy home on the 29th January and their performances in international competitions aren-t limited to Asian tournaments. They-ve appeared in no less than eight FIFA World Cups and are currently the only Asian team to have ever reached the semi-finals, which they did when they co-hosted the 2002 tournament.
They-ve now played in the last seven World Cups in a row and the last FIFA World Cup qualifications saw South Korea become the only Asian side to get to South Africa without being beaten along the way. Historically they-ve been strong in this tournament too, having won it twice (1956, 19060) as well as being runners up on three occasions.
Despite not being so successful in the more recent AFC Asian Cup tournaments, they have steadily improved and are now respected around the world, proven by having a spattering of players in the best leagues in the world. Their third place finish in the last tournament will definitely be seen as a launch pad for a bid to take the trophy this time.
Captain and Star midfielder Park Ji Sung is well known around the world as being a Manchester United first team regular and his improving performances have seen him develop a real eye for goal amongst other aspects. Australian defenders will have to watch out for his darting runs that have seen him terrorise defences in both the European Champions League and the Premiership alike.
His versatility is key though, he-s able to play anywhere across the midfield and is noted for his exceptional fitness level, discipline, work ethic, positional awareness and movement. Aside from Park there are other names such as fellow midfielder Son Heung-Min who currently plays for Hamburg in Germany and Lee Chung-Yong who-s at high flying Bolton Wanderers at present.
The standard of players in both teams makes the game between the two sides the best so far in terms of quality on the park. Some pundits, including Fox Sports- Andy Harper, have even gone as far as saying the team who beats South Korea will go onto lift the trophy. After winning 4-0 against India, Australia should be warmed up enough for the tough challenge. Defeat won-t spell the end for either side but it will mean they-ll have to win the remaining game and a possible quarter final match up against a strong, in-form Iranian side. If anything it-ll be an indicator of who-s looking like being the best side in the tournament at this stage.
A win will be a major psychological blow and also send out a message of intent to the other sides in the competition. Japan may well have something to say about that but a victorious Australia would have to wait until the semis or the final to face them.
Aside from the obvious points of being two of the best sides in the competition, an interesting tussle on the pitch could also develop between two of the best players in the English Premiership. Cahill and Park will go head to head at the weekend and it-ll be interesting to see who comes out on top. Park could play a tight marking game on Cahill who will have more or a creative role than his Manchester United opponent.
One thing-s for sure, these two are at the forefront of Asian football and definitely two of the more dominant Asian teams that are driving the game forward in the region.
If there is a winner of this game then they-re sure to have an easier route to the semis and avoid the second ranked Japanese side until the final if Japan top group B. They-ll also take a major confidence boost knowing that the winners have managed to defeat one of the main contenders on paper for Asia-s top footballing prize.