What we learned from Socceroos' semi-final

The Goal team examine Tuesday night's semi-final between the Socceroos and UAE, won by the Aussies 2-0 in Newcastle.

MATCH REPORT: Socceroos book spot in Asian Cup final

Midfield berth up for grabs

Faced with a choice between James Troisi, Mark Bresciano, Matt McKay and Mark Milligan, Postecoglou opted for latter to play alongside Mile Jedinak and Massimo Luongo in midfield in Newcastle.

While Bresciano didn't do enough after starting against China to warrant being retained, it was a little harsh on Troisi, who has worked hard and done little wrong in his three appearances to date at the competition.

Milligan though deservedly got the nod after excelling as Jedinak's stand-in during the captain's absence through injury against Oman and South Korea. The Melbourne Victory skipper also did well when he came on for Bresciano in the quarter-final, narrowly failing to add a third goal in that 2-0 victory at Suncorp Stadium.

The decision represented a middle ground behind adventure and caution, with Milligan more defensively-minded than Troisi but also able to contribute going forward.

Just to ensure the selection debates continue right up until Saturday's final, Milligan had his quietest game yet and was replaced by another trusted Postecoglou favourite McKay in the second half.

Overdue fast start pays dividends

For the first time in five attempts, Australia started a game quickly and were richly rewarded, bagging two decisive goals in the first 14 minutes. 

There had been notable jitters in the opener against Kuwait, a match in which they conceded first, against Oman in Sydney, when Mat Ryan was required to prevent the hosts going behind again and last time out against China, Jedinak and Bresciano's rustiness contributing to a nervous start in Queensland.

There was no repeat of those teething problems in Newcastle, Trent Sainsbury settling any nerves by scoring from a corner in the second minute, before Davidson added a second after a goalmouth scramble 12 minutes later.

The United Arab Emirates' openness, sloppiness in possession and lack of defensive urgency suggested Mahdi Ali's side, despite the evidence presented to them in Australia's previous four games, weren't quite prepared for the intensity of the hosts' pressing, which has been more urgent and effective than any other team at the competition.

Too late when UAE began playing

Not content with knocking out holders Japan in the last eight, the Gulf nation seemingly opted to afford their hosts a two-goal head start in the semis, waiting until the 30th minute to begin playing the kind of football that has won plenty of fans among the neutrals and seen them reach the latter stages.

With the tricky Omar Abdulrahman pulling the strings and the likes of Ahmed Khalil and Ali Ahmed Mabkhout proving a threat in the final third, the UAE finally woke up, put their foot on the ball and began to stroke it about, managing what few other teams have done in this tournament by denying the Socceroos the lion's share of possession in the final 15 minutes of the half.

The trend continued after the break, the underdogs picking up where they left off to continue troubling Postecoglou's men. 

Should Uli Stielike stick or twist?

South Korea face a tactical dilemma in the final. The Taeguk Warriors have gone for safety first under their German coach, putting the emphasis on not conceding before they seek to break down the opposition. 

Scoring first worked perfectly for them against Australia in the group stage, allowing them to sit back, soak up the pressure and ultimately walk away with all three points and a clean sheet.

On another night though the Socceroos could well have breached the backline of South Korea, who only threatened occasionally on the counterattack in the second half.

Having seen what impact UAE's attempts to take the initiative had on Postecoglou's men in the second half in Newcastle, will Stielike instruct his men to be more aggressive in Sydney? Or would that play straight into the hands of an attacking Australia? We may find out on Saturday night.

Will nervy finish worry Ange?

It may have been a consequence of taking a comfortable lead so early in the game, but Australia in the second half looked more disjointed and less comfortable than they have at any stage of the tournament previously.

While perhaps breaching a degree of caution, Postecoglou - if true to his word - certainly won't have instructed his players to shut-up shop. It's not in his DNA and they were certainly pushing for a third as the clock wore down, but rarely looked like finding it.

Thankfully for the men in green and gold and their supporters, the UAE couldn't convert their increased possession and flashes of counterattacking danger into meaningful chances. As demonstrated in the Group A decider, South Korea - with Son Heung-min at the point of their attack - may not be so kind.

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.