Australia will face South Korea in the final of the Asian Cup on Saturday night after defeating the United Arab Emirates 2-0 in the semi-final in Newcastle on Tuesday night.
It’s second final in a row for the Socceroos, who lost to Japan, 1-0, in Qatar in 2011.
The Socceroos set up their win early, with surprise goals to two defenders, Trent Sainsbury and Jason Davidson, who scored their first internationals goals, in the third and 14th minutes respectively.
Continuing the reversal of roles, star striker Tim Cahill’s staunch defence in the second half kept the visitors scoreless as UAE launched several counter attacks. He was aided in defence by fellow striker Robbie Kruse, who was given a surprise yellow card while on attack in front of the UAE goal. Kruse led repeated, exhilarating raids on the UAE goal but his constant effort went unrewarded.
It was a dramatic turnaround for coach Ange Postecoglou’s team, who have been slow to start, but are have scored the most goals of any side in the tournament.
The Socceroos now face the challenge of defeating the side they went down to 1-0 during the group matches 10 days ago.
The team had a dream start thanks to a corner early in the match, with the cross from Massimo Luongo passing over the head of a heavily-marked Tim Cahill to find Sainsbury on his own, his header find the left hand side of the net.
The UAE tried to counter soon after, but a shot by Ahmed Khalil hit the post and Australia countered soon after when a cross to the penalty area from Ivan Franjic saw attempts by Cahill and Mathew Leckie blocked before Davidson picked up the crumbs on the third attempt to find the back of the net and put the Socceroos up 2-0 just 14 minutes into the game.
The UAE began to compose themselves late in the first half, but failed to finish, with poor final passes letting them down frequently. Australia’s efforts were thwarted by repeated offside calls, some of them questionable.
The UAE dominated the ball in the second half, but were unable to finish off their raids as Australia’s defence, led by Cahill before he was replaced by Tomi Juric with around 20 minutes left in the game.
Poor refereeing saw Australia miss out on corners in the second half after shots from Kruse and Luongo were pushed away by UAE keeper Majed Naser, but referee Ravshan Irmatov failed to notice his fingers on the ball and awarded goal kicks.
In the dying minutes, brilliant defence by Sainsbury in the 89th minute blocked the UAE’s best chance from the always dangerous Ali Mabkhout.
The Socceroos managed to hold on, but will need to lift against South Korea.
Afterwards, man of the match Luongo said that while the team was proud of its achievement “it wasn’t our best”.
Postecoglou said his side had shown it could score goals from all areas and hoped a crowd of more than 80,000 at Stadium Australia would lift the Socceroos.
“This is an opportunity to achieve something huge,” he said.