Lightning strikes fire Oz into final
Australia struck twice early on and then soaked up the pressure as they downed United Arab Emirates 2-0 to set up an Asian Cup final against unbeaten South Korea on Tuesday. Quickfire goals from defenders Trent Sainsbury and Jason Davidson in the first 15 minutes were enough to put the 2011 runners-up in the frame for their first Asian title.
“It was a dream start for us. I think as the game went on fatigue kicked in a little bit but we hung on and kept a clean sheet,” said Davidson of West Bromwich Albion. The Emirates’ star playmaker Omar Abdulrahman asked constant questions of the Socceroos at Newcastle’s Hunter Stadium, but the visitors were unable to craft a way back. “It wasn’t the best performance but sometimes in semi-finals you don’t play your best football,” said forward Robbie Kruse, a veteran of 2011’s tight final defeat to Japan.
Sainsbury had promised to ‘choke’ UAE ‘until they’re blue’ and they barely had time to draw breath when he headed in the game’s first corner after only three minutes.The centre-half rose unmarked to nod the ball down and past goalkeeper Majed Naser, settling any early nerves for Ange Postecoglou’s men. UAE targetman Ahmed Khalil almost hit back on 10 minutes but his low shot struck the outside of Mathew Ryan’s near post and went out for a goal-kick. And on 14 minutes Australia earned breathing space when left-back Davidson coolly passed the ball into the bottom corner for the 2-0 lead. Australia’s front three of Robbie Kruse, Mathew Leckie and Tim Cahill were always dangerous but despite going two goals down, UAE refused to be cowed and they continually probed without being able to crack the home defence.
The Socceroos, who lost to Japan in the 2011 final, should have had a third shortly before the break but Mark Milligan could only drag his shot wide. Khalil drilled a powerful long-range effort narrowly wide after the restart as the Gulf side sought to keep the game alive. But that was the closest they came and despite their forays forward, the second half played out scoreless for what finished as a comfortable Australian victory.
“In such a big game like a semi-final it’s not easy to come back after conceding two goals by mistakes in the first 15 minutes. You have to concentrate for 90 minutes, otherwise you will lose. The goals affected us a lot. We tried our best to come back but it was not easy,” said UAE coach Mahdi Ali.