Brave Australia grab maiden Asian Cup triumph against battling South Korea
Australia picked up their first major international trophy as they defeated South Korea 2-1 in extra-time in the 2015 Asian Cup final in Sydney.
In an exciting match of countless talking points, here are three observations.
1. Glory to the brave
It was, without question, the least Socceroos-like performance of the Asian Cup. But they won't care.
Australia did not put in the type of performance coach Ange Postecoglou would have wanted in the decider, arguably being dominated for the first time in the tournament.
South Korea controlled possession and the tempo of the game for large periods of regular time, but simply could not convert their dominance into goals.
In truth, a desperate Socceroos defence gave them precious few clear-cut opportunities, despite the areas of the pitch the game was being played in.
The euphoria following Son Heung-min's dramatic injury-time leveller aside, the Taeguk Warriors were left to rue a frustrating night.
The Socceroos played the first 44 minutes of the first half within themselves.
Whereas the intent against UAE in the semifinal was to penetrate at all costs early on, the hesitancy on display as the hosts nervously played square balls or soft passes into the feet of Tim Cahill was clear.
One moment of bravery changed all that.
In the final minute of the first half, Trent Sainsbury played a ball of real meaning into the feet of Massimo Luongo. The Swindon Town man -- how is he still playing there, by the way? -- then turned his defender expertly before firing a fierce strike into the bottom corner.
The Socceroos remembered how they play football in a moment of inspiration.
After hanging on until Son restored parity, it was another moment that decided the result. Tomi Juric skinned Kim Jin-su on the byline brilliantly when it seemed a foul or corner was the only possible outcome.
The ensuing cross was parried into the path of James Troisi, who hung on to his moment of glory with both hands.
With nerves abundant, finals are won on instances of courage.
They may not have played the free-flowing football Postecoglou demands, but they were warriors in the face of a stern test from South Korea.
2. Fitness a factor
Despite conceding no goals en route to the final, South Korea showed that fitness was not their strong suit in this tournament.
The effects of a gruelling game against Uzbekistan were clear at the end of their quarterfinal. And so it was in the final.
The Socceroos, conversely, were forced to make all three substitutions due to injury.
Cahill was seen to by team physios as soon as he was replaced by Juric, while Robbie Kruse suffered what appeared to be a potentially serious injury -- yet still somehow picked up a yellow card for time-wasting in the process -- and Ivan Franjic ultimately succumbed to an ongoing hip injury.
The men in green and gold battled on.
In extra-time, the home side looked the more likely to score, running over the top of their opponents as the game wore on -- the possession statistics for Australia in the opening period of extra-time tallied 71.3 percent.
There were few chances for either side in the final 30 minutes, with Juric in the thick of things, nodding wide on one occasion, setting up Troisi moments later, and having a decent penalty shout waved away.
That Postecoglou's men could do so without their talisman and one of their best players in Cahill was a testament to their physical and mental tenacity.
It may be a stereotype that Australia's players physically impose themselves on games in Asia. On this occasion it made all the difference.
3. Rivalry building
Coming into this final, South Korea were looking to break a 55-year Asian Cup title drought. Australia, meanwhile, were seeking their first major international trophy.
This was the third Asian Cup meeting between the two nations, with South Korea unbeaten after the first two -- including a win that saw them take top spot in Group A in this tournament -- but Australia would have happily traded the previous two results for a win in this final.
Before hosting this competition, the Socceroos had only lost two games in their brief Asian Cup experience, both against Japan.
This sets up some fabulous rivalries in East Asia.
Whenever Australia, South Korea or Japan take on each other, the feeling grows, which is wonderfully healthy for Asian football.
These nations are, in fact, pushing each other to greater heights.
Talk this week that there are members within the Asian Football Confederation unhappy with Australia's involvement have missed this crucial point.
There are politics at play, of course, but a vote to cast Australia out of Asia would be a vote against the continent's best interests.
Such rivalries, particularly when a piece of silverware is at stake, add a level of richness to football.
No doubt South Korea are already looking to 2018 World Cup qualifiers and the 2019 Asian Cup for revenge. Australia will be ready.
Rob Brooks writes about Australian football and the A-League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @RobNJBrooks