By DAVID HARDS: Korea Republic and Uzbekistan provided the Melbourne football public with their final act in this Asian Cup football symphony, and what an act it was.
Extra time was required to decide Korea Republic as the winner and send a brave Uzbekistan team home.
Son Heung Min provided the necessary firepower for Korea Republic – his brace in extra time proved the difference between the two well-matched teams. And his goals, on 104 and 119 minutes, were a cruel blow to the many Uzbek fans who filled the South end of the stadium.
Korea Republic were deserving of their extra time win proving the better team in the final 30 minutes, after regulation time couldn’t split the teams. The disciplined defence and team ethos shone through the Taegeuk Warriors who now they will face the winner of the Iran vs Iraq clash.
While regulation time didn’t have a goal to show, it produced electrifying football. Lutfulla Turaev missed the best chance of the game in the 78th minute, somehow missing an open goal from a mere two yards out. This was the moment Uzbekistan had to grab if they were to take anything away from the quarter-final clash.
Uzbekistan coach Mirdjalal Kasmiov lamented after the game: “You saw that we could score many goals but luck was not on our side.”
The White Wolves started the match the better of the two, but were unable to break down the Korea Republic defence. The discipline of the back four showed why coach Ulrich Stielike’s men haven’t conceded a goal in the tournament thus far. Korea Republic lifted the intensity as the first-half wore on and had the ascendency towards half time.
Some great link-up play resulted in the Uzbekistan goalkeeper keeper, Ignatiy Nesterov, making the best double save of the tournament. A beautiful run from Lee Keun Ho and the follow up effort of Nam Tae Hee were thwarted by the keeper. Moments later a well-placed effort just inside the box from Son Heung Min was tipped over the bar by Nesterov. Three solid moments in the space of two minutes almost proved too much for the Uzbeks but their 31-year-old shot-stopper was up to the challenge.
The Taegeuk Warriors’ goalkeeper, Kim Jin Hyeon, was also called into action when Bakhodir Nasimov had the best chance for Uzbekistan. He waited and let the ball bounce, and ultimately gave Hyeon time to close down the forward. Plenty of chances sailed over the bar in the first half and the referee was prepared to play an open free flowing game. Uzbekistan chances were less clear cut than their opponent but enough to have all 23,381 in attendance on the edge of their seats.
Extra time proved too much for the plucky Uzbeks who now leave Australia at the quarter final stage of the tournament, leaving the international future of superstar Server Djeparov uncertain. The White Wolves received many plaudits during the tournament and have won many new fans throughout Australia. Sardor Rashidov has been unearthed at international tournament level and will only improve with the experience.
Sadly there will be no encores for the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium but what a special seven nights we have experienced during the 2015 Asian Cup.comments