BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — There was more at stake for Ki Sung-Yueng than just top spot in the group, and it was evident in his man-of-the-match performance in guiding South Korea to a 1-0 win over Australia at the Asian Cup on Saturday.
Ki, who spent four years living in Brisbane, played a role in the only goal in the contest for Group A supremacy. The South Korea captain played the ball into the area for Lee Keun-ho, who steered a left-foot cross toward the far post and Lee Jeong-hyeop finished with a sliding touch to beat Mat Ryan in the 32nd minute.
The Australians had almost two-thirds of possession and twice as many shots on goal, but two-time champion South Korea took full advantage of its first genuine chance.
"I was desperate to win. I wanted to go first of the group," Ki said, adding that the "game was for pride" between two of Asia's top teams.
South Korea won all three group games 1-0, upending an Australian squad that had an 8-1 goal differential going into the group decider. The Australians now face a quarterfinal against China on Thursday, while the South Koreans must wait to see who wins on Sunday between 2011 semifinalist Uzbekistan and three-time champion Saudi Arabia.
"We won three games, but I think we start now from the quarterfinal," Ki said. "Our target is to be the champion."
Australia coach Ange Postecoglou was missing injured captain Mile Jedinak, and also kept key attackers Tim Cahill, Robbie Kruse and Mathew Leckie on the bench to start.
"We had the opportunities, we just didn't take them," he said. "We obviously conceded a pretty poor goal from us — we switched off.
"While the result didn't go our way, we kind of dominated the game for major parts and created opportunities. Ultimately, they got the reward and the result. From a football performance perspective, though, there's still positives."
Oman finished third in Group A, picking up its first win from Abdulaziz Al Maqbali's 69th-minute header in a 1-0 victory over Kuwait in Newcastle.
Postecoglou complained about the surface of the pitch in Brisbane, saying it prevented a slick, attacking game. And South Korea coach Uli Stielike said the pitch had the feel of a surface recently roughed up by rugby. But the 2011 finalists will have to adapt quickly, needing to beat China at the same venue to move into a semifinal at Newcastle on Jan. 27 — quite possibly against defending champion Japan.
The Australians lacked a finishing touch, particularly in the first half, when Tomi Juric and Nathan Burns both had shots on goal.
Australia went close to getting a first-half equalizer when James Troisi pivoted, turned and shot into the side-netting in the 34th. The stadium screen wrongly flashed up a goal, bringing a roar from the 48,513-crowd which was packed with fans in gold jerseys except for a large pocket of Korean fans behind the southern goal. But the equalizer never came.
Burns made a strong run into the area in the 70th, beating three defenders but had his shot saved by Kim. It was his last act before being replaced by Kruise. Cahill went on at the same time in a double substitution.
Kruse had a chance for a late equalizer when he was one-on-one with Kim in the 88th, but the Korean goalkeeper made a desperate save from close range to preserve the lead.
In a seesawing finish as players from both teams struggled in the hot and humid conditions, Jang Hyun-soo missed a chance to make it 2-0 on a counterattack in stoppage time when his effort was well blocked by Ryan.
Cahill got a yellow card at the other end following an aerial collision with Kim, and the 'keeper stayed on the ground to be treated for cramp, drawing thunderous booing from the crowd.
The win was costly for a South Korean squad already dealing with injuries. Midfielder Park Joo-ho was treated for a bloody nose after a collision in the 29th and was replaced before half time.
Koo Ja-Cheol had to be replaced after landing awkwardly two minutes into the second half and was carried off the field on a stretcher. Stielike said Koo would have medical tests Sunday to check the extent of the damage.