The Socceroos' date with destiny is here.
A full house at Sydney’s Stadium Australia and millions more across Australia and Asia will be glued to their screens when Ange Postecoglou’s exciting young side take on South Korea for the 2015 Asian Cup crown.
Two of the AFC’s most eye-catching football nations going for broke in a cracking contest of full-throttle, attacking football.
A night of high drama looms at a stadium that's hosted its fair share of sporting theatre.
Ever since they were toppled by Korea in the group stage you got a sense Postecoglou and his troops were desperate for another crack at the Taeguk Warriors. They now have that chance for revenge.
Both sides came through their semi-finals quite comfortably and unscathed, with the Koreans enjoying the benefit of an extra day's rest to prepare.
The fitness of Ivan Franjic, however, looms as a key for the Green and Gold. If the Torpedo Moscow right back is ruled out then Postecoglou will be forced into a big decision or two.
Does he throw midfielder Mark Milligan into a defensive position he hasn’t played in a number of years and bring either Matt McKay, James Troisi or Mark Bresciano into the middle of the park?
The other option is to split up the strong central defensive pairing of Trent Sainsbury and Matthew Spiranovic by shifting the former out to the right and promoting experienced centre-back Alex Wilkinson - himself a star in the K-League.
Of course all this depends on Franjic’s powers of recovery - it’s a huge decision for the manager and could be decisive in the outcome. Especially with Korean attackers Son Heung Min, Nam Tae Hee and Lee Jeonghyeop getting stronger with every match at the tournament.
The midfield battle will also be key. While skipper Mile Jedinak provides a fearsome presence in the middle of the park, Korean skipper Ki Sung Yueng is just as influential.
He sets the tempo for Korea and his passing – both short and long – organisational skills and quality are crucial for Uli Stielike’s outfit.
It will be frenetic and physical in that area of the park.
Postecoglou has stuck with the same attacking 4-3-3 formation throughout the tournament and won’t change it now.
Just who lines up where will depend a lot on Franjic’s availability but assuming he’s fit, it’s hard to see any changes to the back four, with Jason Davidson – who scored against the UAE – favourite to get the nod over Aziz Behich at left-back.
He’s played both the sudden-death matches and would be stiff to miss out, although Behich got the nod against Korea in the group stage.
Jedinak as the screener and Massimo Luongo ahead of him will fill two of the midfield roles with Milligan, McKay, Troisi and Bresciano all contenders for the other.
Tim Cahill, Robbie Kruse and Mathew Leckie all started from the bench against Korea in the group stage but there’s no doubt they are Postecoglou’s favoured front three and are set to be unleashed from the kick-off this time.
Like in the semi-final, it’s imperative the Socceroos start fast.
Given Korea’s near impenetrable defence, scoring first could be decisive. Australia went behind in Brisbane and despite creating a number of good chances couldn’t peg back the Taeguk Warriors.
While this is not Korea Republic’s most talented squad ever, they are organised, clinical and physically strong.
Stielike has them well-drilled and playing to their strengths. It will be one huge challenge for the Socceroos to topple them.
In Ki, Son, Cha Du Ri and Tae Hee they have players with experience and class. Like in Brisbane they will look to get in behind the Socceroos full-backs and exploit any defensive lapse.
Having not won the continental title since 1960, the team and whole country will see this as an opportunity they simply can’t let slip.
But this is a rare chance for the Socceroos as well. Winning an Asian Cup – a major international piece of silverware – in front of their adoring home fans is an opportunity so rare they must grab it with both hands.
Whatever happens, game 32 of the Asian Cup is shaping as a fitting finale to a most beautiful three weeks of football in Australia.
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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