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“Son Heung-min is not afraid”
ESPN expressed the Australian national team’s determination to greet South Korea on the 1st (Korea time) under the title, “After playing against Lionel Messi, Socceroo (Australia) respects Son Heung-min but is not afraid.”
In the round of 16 strongest teams at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Australia lost to Messi 1-2. Since then, Australia had a friendly match with Argentina in June last year, and in this match, it allowed Messi to score the first goal in the first two minutes, falling to 0-2.
He recently competed with world-class players, including against Messi twice, and is confident that such experiences will help him face South Korea led by Son Heung-min.
Australian coach Graham Arnold jokingly said, “I called Enze (Postecoglou Tottenham manager) and asked him, ‘Will you take Son Heung-min back?’”
“Our team’s defense structure and form were very good. I passed the first round of the tournament with a clean sheet,” he said. “However, if we give such a rival (Korea) time and sloppy space, we could be punished.”
Australia is 25th in the FIFA rankings, just two places behind Korea. In last year’s three consecutive A matches, Argentina, Mexico and England faced off against strong teams, showing off their formidable record as they tied with Mexico 2-2 and lost to England 0-1.
The team is on a roll in Asia. It defeated Bangladesh 7-0 in the first match of the second qualifying round of the 2026 FIFA North-Central America World Cup, and beat Palestine 1-0 in the second match to rise to the top in its group. It also defeated Bahrain 2-0 in the final mock test before the Asian Cup.
Australia continued its upward trend in the Asian Cup finals. The team beat India 2-0 in its first group match, and then beat Syria 1-0. Although the team tied Uzbekistan 1-1 in its last group match, it had no problem advancing to the tournament as No. 1 in Group B. In the round of 16, it crushed Indonesia led by coach Shin Tae-yong 4-0, and easily advanced to the quarterfinals.
Even after the match against Indonesia, Arnold said, “We have to take credit for Indonesia. They made it difficult for us. We have learned today not only from our performance but also from our training.”
“Asian soccer has come a long way. We told our players to be ready for the fight. We ordered them to be ready for the physical battle. We played well, but we were able to do better and we always want to be positive,” he said.
“We’re going to watch Saudi Arabia vs. Korea, and we’re going to take a few days off,” he continued. “We just think of focusing on ourselves as a top priority. One of the best things we got from this game was that our individual faith improved. The players relaxed and showed how well they could do. They loved seeing their confidence, skills, and imagination. I was really happy to see their performance today.”
“Keeping the clean sheet means we win the game. A scoreless win builds our mentality and guarantees us victory. It gives us faith in offense, calmness in defense, and it helps us stick to our game plan and focus,” he stressed.
According to ESPN, Arnold also expressed his good mood ahead of the quarterfinal match. Analysts say that it is also a boon that Korea will not play in front of loud and hostile Saudi fans after beating Saudi Arabia.
ESPN said, “It is no laughing matter for Australia that the Korean team that failed to win the Asian Cup tournament (recently) is a ‘greatest’ team led by talented golden generations such as Son Heung-min, Lee Kang-in, and Hwang Hee-chan. However, Australia has recently become proficient in defending against world-class stars through two matches against Argentina led by Messi, as well as against England and Mexico, and theoretically strengthened their resolve. Although it has not been aggressive so far, Australia has conceded only one goal in this tournament, which means it has the strongest defense unlike Korea, and has not lost any matches yet.”
“We have a good defensive record. No one took our chances against us in the World Cup, especially against Argentina. Even though they were confident that they could finish the game in the first half, we have confidence as a team. It’s not just us four-back. In this tournament, we have proved ourselves. We have tied up the fewest scoring chances against our opponents. It will be no different in the game against Korea,” he said.
“We do not focus on the individual opponent team. We have to be careful. It is certainly in the back of our mind as a player that world-class players can change the game. But it is about us and what we can do as a team,” he said.
ESPN quoted Australia as saying, “One of the areas where Australia can have a clear advantage (in Korea) is the physical part.” He said Australia has a longer break time than Korea.
Australia played a round of 16 strongest teams against Indonesia on June 28, and won 4-0. In contrast, Korea played a round of 16 strongest teams against Saudi Arabia on June 31. The team even tied the match 1-1 and then won the penalty shootout 30 minutes into overtime to secure a 4-2 victory. As a result, Australia has 53 more hours to rest than Korea. While Korea advanced to the round of 16 strongest teams in Group E, Australia is thus enjoying an advantage in its schedule in that it ranks first in Group B.
Moreover, Korea, which had a penalty shootout match with Saudi Arabia in the 120th minute, did not even use rotation in the group league. Son Heung-min and Lee Kang-in played full-time in all matches that Korea played, including the match on the day. After winning 3-1 in the first group match against Bahrain, the team tied 2-2 in the second group match against Jordan, and early confirmed its advance to the round of 16 teams, some predicted that the team would give some of its key players a break in the third match against Malaysia, but Klinsmann let Son play in the match against Malaysia and did not replace him.
After the game, Jürgen Klinsmann said, “Some say that we finished second in the group to avoid Japan, but it’s not at all. I wanted to avoid this schedule by ranking first in the group. Since we didn’t rank No. 1 in the group, we have to deal with it now.” “53 hours is not a small amount of time. It will make a big difference, but I expect today’s victory will give positive energy to the team.”
Australian sports media Optus also reported the results of the match between South Korea and Saudi Arabia, saying, “Australia has gained a big advantage ahead of the quarterfinals,” adding, “Korea now has only two days left to recover from the 120-minute match and penalty shootout, while Australia has five days.”
“Our plan for the match against Indonesia was to maintain possession and keep the ball moving. We drew a picture of moving left and right to secure space and shoot,” Arnold said. “In this type of game, we have shown physical ability, pressure, back pressure, and willingness to make efforts without giving time to the opponent to have the ball over the past few years, especially last year. We played hard and with high intensity. That will not change. We will put pressure on Korea. Make sure our game plan and way of thinking are correct.”
Striker Martin Boyle said, “We have grown quickly through the World Cup. We are one big family and it starts with that. We are a great mix of experience and youth. We are equipped with all abilities. We just have to believe that we can go all the way.”
The Korean national team, which is trying to win the championship for the first time in 64 years since 1956 and 1960, is said to be the strongest ever. Starting with Son Heung-min, who is ranked third in the Premier League with 12 goals this season, Hwang Hee-chan, who is in his prime with 10 goals in the Premier League, and Lee Kang-in, who has become the main player in Paris Saint-Germain, will lead the attack. Kim Min-jae, who has established himself as the world’s best central defender in Bayern Munich, will be in charge of the defense. In addition, players who led the 2022 Qatar World Cup to the round of 16 under former coach Paulo Bento, including Lee Jae-sung and Hwang Hee-chan, are firmly in place in the Cleansman Lake.
“I don’t make promises. In soccer, anything can happen. Nothing is natural. I will compete in the championship with the goal of winning the title. I will compete with high-quality teams. I will do my best to win the title against them.” It has been too long since Korea won the title. Considering the quality of the team and the players, it is highly likely that Korea will win the title. I will make sure to conclude the title with good results. I am learning a lot through the championship. I feel how hard it is. I came to know the strengths and weaknesses of Middle Eastern teams and those of Southeast Asian teams. It will not be easy, but I will do my best to achieve my goal.” He expressed his ambition to advance to the quarterfinals.
Meanwhile, the quarterfinals were confirmed after the round of 16 match between Syria and Iran. On the left side, Tajikistan and Jordan will face off, while Australia and Korea will face off. On the right side, Iran and Japan, and hosts Qatar and Uzbekistan will play for a ticket to the semifinals.