- Associated Press - Saturday, January 31, 2015

SYDNEY (AP) - Australia won its first Asian Cup title by beating South Korea 2-1 after extra time Saturday in the final at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium.

Substitute James Troisi tapped home the winner after Kim Jin-hyeon could only parry striker Tomi Juric’s low cross just before the midway point of extra time to give Australia its maiden continental title after it joined the Asian confederation in 2006.

Earlier, a superb long-range strike by Massimo Luongo just before halftime had put Australia ahead before South Korea’s standout player Son Hyeung-min equalized deep into second-half injury time to deny the hosts victory in regulation time.

“It’s a proud moment for our country,” said Australia coach Ange Postecoglou. “To be champions you got to display a whole range of qualities and today was about courage, belief and conviction. The players had that in abundance.”

“We got tested. We copped one in the last minute. It would have broken a lot of teams.”

South Korea, which had not conceded a goal until the final, has now lost its past four finals and has not won the tournament since 1960.

“We don’t have the cup but the way we played today we are also champions of a lot of hearts,” said South Korea coach Uli Stielike. “I think the best result from such a match would have been a draw and we take the cup for two years each, but I know it can’t be like this and we have to accept that.”

Australia’s rampant attack had notched a tournament-leading 12 goals in five games coming into the final but was largely muted in the first half as South Korea quickly settled and frequently found its way into the final attacking third.

However, Australia inflicted the first blow with Luongo’s stunning strike within seconds of halftime. It was the 22-year-old Swindon Town midfielder’s second goal of the Asian Cup, to go with four assists. He was named player of the tournament after the final.

South Korea’s Son was the standout player on the field and, despite missing difficult chances earlier in the match, made no mistake in the final minute when he blasted past Mat Ryan to send the match to extra time.

Australia looked fresher in the extra period and the match turned again on an exceptional piece of individual skill in the 105th minute.

Juric, who came on for Tim Cahill in the 63rd, back-heeled the ball between Kin Jin-su’s legs on the goal line and sent in a low cross which the goalkeeper could only block into the path of Troisi, who put the ball into the empty net to erase Australia’s disappointment of losing the final four years ago to Japan in Qatar.

“We knew that we would be strong in extra time,” said Postecoglou. “We knew we probably had them on fitness.”

Earlier in the game, Australia struggled to handle the pace of the South Korean wide players with both Ivan Franjic and Jason Davidson especially caught out in the early stages, with Son looking particularly threatening as he cut in from the flanks.

Australia captain Mile Jedinak produced his team’s first shot but his free kick from a central position just cleared the crossbar with Kim beaten in the 8th.

Son, who scored both goals in South Korea’s 2-0 extra-time win over Uzbekistan, almost opened the scoring with an exquisite volley in the 36th, which rocketed just over the angle of the post and crossbar with Ryan on the ground.

After being under concerted pressure for most of the first half, Australia seized the momentum with a moment of individual brilliance by Luongo.

In the final minute of the half, Luongo received Trent Sainsbury’s forward pass, turned sharply and unleashed a powerful low shot from 25 yards (meters) that beat Kim and passed just inside the left post to spark wild celebrations among the 76,385 crowd.

“I definitely enjoyed that one,” Luongo said.

South Korea started the second half better with Son again looking dangerous.

Just past the hour Postecoglu withdrew Cahill, who suffered an ankle injury in the first half, for Juric. Cahill received a standing ovation as Australia’s greatest ever goalscorer - with 39 goals from 82 games - left the field in what may be his final appearance for the national team.

Australia suffered further injury blows less than 10 minutes later with Robbie Kruse stretchered off the field with what appeared a serious leg injury for the Bayer Leverkusen winger.

Franjic then departed through injury to leave Australia without substitutes for the final 20 minutes.

With the final moments ebbing away, South Korea launched a long ball toward Australia’s penalty box which eventually fell to Son who held off Sainsbury to fire a shot past Ryan to force extra time.

Juric then helped set up Troisi to finally settle it for the hosts.

“Conceding a goal just before halftime and then just before halftime in extra time, this killed our mentality a little bit,” said Stielike.

Despite a day less to prepare, Australia’s defense stood firm to cap an impressive breakthrough tournament for the host country.

At the official presentation after the final, FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s arrival was booed by home fans, still upset with the 2022 World Cup bidding process that saw Australia lose out to Qatar.

The 78-year-old Blatter is running for a fifth term as president despite increasing pressure, particularly from Europe, to step aside amid FIFA’s tarnished reputation after years of scandals and criticism.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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