Australia and Korea Republic have fought out a 1-1 draw at the AFC Asian Cup as both sides inched closer to the quarter-finals. The two Asian heavyweights are both seen as potential tournament winners but neither could find the decisive winner at the three-quarters full Al-Gharafa Stadium.
Exciting 21-year-old Koo Ja-Cheol, the Jeju United midfielder who has already attracted interest from overseas clubs, got the breakthrough on 24 minutes, firing home his third goal of the competition. However, a second-half equaliser from Mile Jedinak ensured both teams earned a point.
It leaves Korea Republic and Australia on four points from two games, with Bahrain and India playing later. The South Koreans are best-placed with only India standing in their way, while the Socceroos face a tricky encounter with Bahrain on Tuesday.
Socceroos coach Holger Osieck said it was a quality game and he was happy with the result. "I think we have seen a very high standard from both teams who have great potential. They displayed it time and again. At times it was end-to-end stuff," said the German. "My team, I'm very happy with their performance. Our game plan was to close them down in midfield and that was mostly achieved. What I found encouraging was we created a lot of chances."
In contrast, his Korean counterpart Cho Kwang-Rae considered it two points lost. "We could have won the game. If you look at the general performance of our team, then we should have won," he said. "We controlled the game mostly so in that aspect we have improved a lot. I am pleased about that and if we can continue to develop that part of our game then it will be much better for us as we move forward."
Manchester United's Park Ji-Sung had the first sight of goal on two minutes after intercepting a poor pass from Lucas Neill, but scuffed his shot and Fulham's Mark Schwarzer collected comfortably. The South Koreans were seeing most of the ball but Australia had a great chance to open the scoring in the seventh minute when Harry Kewell somehow hooked a shot over the bar from six yards out after a Brett Holman free-kick.
Neither side was really finding their rhythm but Korea were creating more chances and they got the breakthrough with the Australian defence asleep. Ji Dong-Won picked up a long ball through the middle and fed it to Koo, who made no mistake with a low right-foot shot. It should have been 2-0 just minutes later with Australia run ragged by a nice build-up that culminated in a fierce shot from Ji that Schwarzer parried away and then collected at the second attempt.
It wasn't all one-way traffic and Kewell almost levelled the game with a powerful 30-yard free-kick that shaved the bar. Australia were starting to create chances and Kewell should have equalised seven minutes before half-time, but he took too long to get his shot away from the edge of the penalty area and it fizzed wide of the right-hand post.
Cahill had an even better chance a minute later with just the goalkeeper to beat, but like Kewell he took too long and Cha Du-Ri charged in to make a vital tackle. The agile Park was proving a handful and was at the centre of much of the Korean action as they came out after the break in attacking mode, with Lee Jung-Soo going close with his header among a handful of early chances.
The South Koreans upped the tempo and Park forced a fine save from Schwarzer on 60 minutes, but the Socceroos equalised against the run of play. Neill looped a high ball into the box and keeper Jung Sung-Ryong came off his line to claim but was beaten to it by Jedinak, whose header found the back of the net.
Cahill then had a goal disallowed for offside as Australia found a new lease of life. Both sides had plenty of opportunity to settle the game with Schwarzer pulling off a fine one-handed save from Ki Sung-Yueng four minutes from time to prevent a Korean victory.