How the Asian Cup final will be won and lost

Goal's Australian and Korean editions compare notes ahead of the eagerly anticipated regional decider, as a crunch game looms at Stadium Australia on Saturday night.

Australia - Iain Strachan

1. How have the team performed in the Asian Cup?

Australia have exceeded expectations, marching confidently into the final with four wins out of five matches played and only two goals conceded.

It's been a long road from the low point of successive 6-0 losses to Brazil and France in September and October 2013, results which prompted the sacking of Holger Osieck and the appointment of Ange Postecoglou.

The new man impressed us with his positivity and attacking intent during a doomed World Cup campaign, but some doubts had begun to creep in among supporters and sections of the media during a run of disappointing friendly results following Brazil 2014.

Any lingering concerns have been swept away by the Socceroos' run to the decider in Sydney on Saturday. All that remains is for the host nation to finish the job, no small task against their group-stage conquerors South Korea.

2. Who has been the most impressive player?

Massimo Luongo wowed us in the opening matches with his energy and maturity and has continued to be a force to be reckoned with throughout the campaign. The Swindon Town youngster looks to have a bright future for the national team and will surely prove too good for League One. 

The other major revelation has been Trent Sainsbury, a rock at centre-back who has played every minute of Australia's five games so far and scored the early opener in the semi-final win over the United Arab Emirates.

3. Who will be the most important player in the game against South Korea and why?

Another big performance from veteran Tim Cahill, a two-goal hero of the quarter-final win over China, is needed but a crucial role awaits for the player picked by Postecoglou to partner holder Mile Jedinak and creative workhorse Massimo Luongo in midfield.

James Troisi, Mark Milligan, Mark Bresciano and Matt McKay have all featured there during the run to the final, but it remains to be seen who the coach will go for at Stadium Australia. Whoever gets the nod, they will need to help Jedinak shield the defence, pick up the ball and carry it forward, join in the attack and try to disrupt Ki Sung-yueng. It's a critical area of the pitch and could decide the contest.

4. Which opponent is the biggest threat in the game against South Korea and why?

Son Heung-min, who didn't start South Korea's 1-0 win in the group stage in Brisbane, looms as the biggest threat to the Socceroos' backline, particularly on the counter. With doubts over Jason Davidson defensively and Ivan Franjic potentially short of full fitness, the Bayer Leverkusen forward will relish running at Australia's defence down either flank, as well as cutting in. Goalkeeper Mat Ryan will need to be on top form to deny the man who bagged both goals in the Taeguk Warriors' 2-0 extra-time quarter-final win over Uzbekistan. 

5. Prediction/Expectation

Such is the positivity now surrounding the national team, the majority of Australian supporters are expecting their team to lift the trophy on Saturday night, although they know it won't be easy. The press pack are more circumspect, although the momentum does certainly appear to be with the hosts. 

We're predicting a 2-1 Socceroos win in extra-time, with a relative newcomer like Luongo or Tomi Juric bagging the winning goal to enter Australian football folklore. 

South Korea - Yonghun Lee

1. How have the team performed in the Asian Cup?

The slogan of the South Korean national team for this tournament was 'Time for CHANGE' and they achieved that - five wins in five games, no goals conceded. The fans' view of the national team has changed considerably since their underwhelming World Cup exit.

What fans expected from new coach Uli Stielike was to lead the team with rational decisions - evaluating players only with their form, not closeness with coach. Stielike delivered this immaculately and gave players a fair chance to compete for their places. This has led to considerable success. New players like Lee Jeong-hyeop, who would have not been called by a Korean coach because he had not been selected for youth national teams, has enjoyed a Cinderella story at this tournament. 

The performances have not been particularly satisfying or entertaining, but fans have started believing in this team again, which is really important after their disastrous World Cup campaign.  A team with strong belief (inside and outside) has been born, now is the chance to end their 55-year Asian Cup drought.

2. Who has been the most impressive player?

Ki Sung-yueng has shone in every game and every minute. His passing accuracy for the tournament is 93 percent, with an average pass completion of 65.57 percent per 90 minutes. And he even played as attacking and left-side midfielder when needed.

We cannot forget to mention striker Lee Jeong-hyeop. Korea had no credible forward due to a combination of a dip of form and injuries. Lee showed his potential by scoring three goals in six international matches (two in this tournament).

3. Who will be the most important player in the game against Australia and why?

Captain Ki Sung-yueng needs to lead the team against Australia and help to win the midfield battle with Mile Jedinak. South Korea should not let Australia dominate possession in the match, given they'll already have home advantage with the support of a partisan crowd. Ki's experience and calmness will be very important.

Centre-back Kim Young-gwon's role is important too. Defensively this new Korea team is yet to be be tested against top quality players based in Europe, such as Robbie Kruse. Kim has been influential in ensuring the back-line is stable, while contributing plenty of well-timed tackles during this tournament.

4. Which opponent is the biggest threat in the game against Australia and why?

We would have said Tim Cahill normally, but Australia have 10 different scorers, so we'll go for Massimo Luongo, whose energy sparks the attack.

Of course Cahill and Kruse will be a big threat again, the latter showing what he can do against Korea in the group stage. He won't miss another chance like that.

5. Prediction/Expectation

Korea won't concede easily but this is the toughest match of the tournament for them. We expect another 1-0 win for Korea with many difficulties. But this could easily go extra-time and even a penalty shootout.

The Socceroos will face Korea Republic in the AFC Asian Cup Final at Stadium Australia on Saturday 31 January (8.00pm local kick off). Click here  to purchase tickets.

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