The Socceroos are the Asian champions after completing a fairytale tournament by beating Korea Republic 2-1 after extra-time in a gripping Asian Cup final on Saturday night.
In an epic decider substitute James Troisi struck a truly golden-goal in the 105th minute, blasting home from close range after Kim Jin Hyeon spilled Tomi Juric’s cross into his path.
Australia looked like they would win the match in normal time, leading right until the death through midfielder Massimo Luongo’s first half scorcher.
But deep in stoppage time at the end of the match, Korean superstar Son Heung Min stunned Ange Postecoglou’s side with a powerful finish to save his team and send the match to extra-time.
Somehow the Aussies regrouped and found some more energy with the two substitutes combining for a superb winner.
Juric looked well-shackled by two defenders on the by-line but flicked the ball between the legs of Kim Jin Su before regaining possession and crossing, with Troisi in the right spot to smash it in and secure an historic victory.
Beaten finalists four years ago the Socceroos weren’t to be denied this time, reversing the defeat to Korea from the group stage a fortnight ago as well as vindicating Postecoglou’s regeneration of the squad since he took over 14 months ago.
While Troisi was the match-winner the home side had contributors all over the park.
Luongo – who has emerged as the Socceroos superstar at this tournament had another brilliant game, skipper Mile Jedinak immense in the middle of the park, while central defenders Matthew Spiranovic and Trent Sainsbury thwarted a host of Korean attacks.
For the visitors – who hadn’t conceded a goal in the tournament until Luongo struck – their 55-year wait for an Asian Cup crown will go on for another four years at least.
A sell-out crowd of almost 77,000 made for a cracking atmosphere in Stadium Australia, giving all the ingredients for what was to be a special night.
Socceroos defender Ivan Franjic overcame a hip problem to start and was in the action straight away, picking up a yellow card for a cynical tug-back on Park Joo Ho.
It was the hosts who fired the first warning shot through Jedinak, his powerful free-kick from 25-metres out dipping just over Jin Hyeon’s crossbar.
With so much at stake it was no surprise that there was plenty of feeling in the opening exchanges as both sides were guilty of some crunching challenges.
The match then sprung to life midway through the first half with chances at either end in the space of a minute.
First it was the Koreans who were inches away from taking the lead, Kwak Taehwi heading wide from close range from a pinpoint Ki Sung Yueng free-kick.
Before the visitors had time to rue that miss they were almost behind themselves.
Robbie Kruse got free down the right and put in an early cross with Tim Cahill getting in front of his marker and then firing off a shot which Jin Hyeon did well to parry wide.
The Koreans then enjoyed a dominant spell with star winger Son at the centre of most of their dangerous moments.
The Bayer Leverkusen man saw a superb volley float just wide of Mat Ryan’s post eight minutes before the break and a minute later it was only a sliding Luongo challenge that deflected his goal-bound shot over the bar.
A free-kick right on the edge of the box soon after presented the next scare for the hosts but Ki’s effort didn’t have enough power to trouble Ryan.
Just when it seemed like the Socceroos would be happy to hold on until half-time, their new star delivered a gem.
Receiving the ball in traffic 30-metres from goal, Luongo turned with the ball, took one step forward then unleashed a thunderous shot into the bottom corner.
The Stadium Australia crowd – nervous just minutes earlier – erupted with joy as the entire Socceroos side wheeled off to celebrate.
Postecoglou’s men now had just 45 minutes to hold on to secure the crown.
Chasing the game it was no surprise the Koreans lifted the tempo on the resumption. They were getting plenty of joy down the flanks but the Socceroos were doing well to repel the danger.
Set pieces were causing Australia trouble and Kwak got on the end of another free-kick and this time headed straight at Ryan.
The Socceroos weren’t about to park the bus and Mathew Leckie forced a smart save on the hour mark before Trent Sainsbury headed just wide from the ensuing corner.
As fatigue started to set in Postecoglou called on the fresh legs of Tomi Juric and James Troisi for Cahill and Kruse.
Franjic lasted 74 minutes before his troublesome hip gave way, forcing a reshuffle with Mark Milligan reverting to right-back and Matt McKay coming on in midfield.
The Koreans continued to apply the pressure without seriously threatening Ryan’s goal but just when it looked like the Socceroos would hold on, Son pounced in stoppage time.
The Australian defence failed to clear a bouncing ball with Ki sliding in Son who produced a classy finish past Ryan to send the final into extra-time.
It was their substitutes Juric and Troisi combined to get the Socceroos back in front and this time there would be no late fight-back from Korea.
Australia (Luongo 45’, Troisi 105’)
Korea Republic (Son 90+2)
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