BRISBANE (Reuters) - South Korea upset Australia 1-0 at the Asian Cup on Saturday to top the Group A standings and secure a potentially easier path to the final while leaving the host nation facing a treacherous route.
Striker Lee Jeong-hyeop scored a perfectly-executed goal in the first half to give his team a surprise lead then the Koreans held on against a wave of Australian attacks to clinch the victory.
The win meant South Korea finished at the top of the Group A standings with three wins and will play either Uzbekistan or Saudi Arabia in the quarter-finals.
As Group A runners-up, Australia will play the Group B winners China with the defending champions Japan lurking as a possible semi-finalist.
The Australians dominated possession and territory but paid a high price for squandering their best chances and resting some of their key players, including star striker Tim Cahill, who only came on for the last 20 minutes when the Socceroos were desperate for an equaliser.
The Korean goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyeon pulled off a series of sharp saves to keep his team ahead and the visitors were unlucky not to grab a second on the counterattack as they raised hopes of winning their first Asian Cup since 1960.
Lee, who was recalled to the starting lineup after missing South Korea’s previous group win over Kuwait, broke the deadlock in the 32nd minute when he got his foot on to a perfectly angled cross from his team mate Lee Keun-ho.
The glance was just enough to divert the ball into the net at the far post, evading the diving Australian goalkeeper Mat Ryan.
With both teams already assured of a place in the quarter-finals, the two regional powerhouses initially adopted a cautious approach, on a hot and humid evening at Brisbane’s Lang Park that was invaded by thousands of moths.
The match began in slightly bizarre circumstances when thousands of moths descended onto the stadium field and grandstands, forcing staff to vacuum some of the benches where players and officials were trying to sit.
But once the Koreans scored, the match opened up as both teams ran themselves to the point of exhaustion.
Tomi Juric forced the South Korean goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyeon to make a sharp save at the near post after an attacking run while James Troisi just missed the target after he fooled the Korean defence in the box and turned quickly to shoot.
The Australians raised the tempo in the second half, starving South Korea of possession and pressing for an equaliser.
Juric missed another chance shortly after the re-start when he shot over the bar from close range after combining with Ivan Franjic.
Nathan Burns almost scored when he weaved his way past two defenders and into the box only to see his shot saved.
Burns was immediately replaced in a double substitution which saw Cahill and Robbie Kruse introduced with 20 minutes remaining.
Kruse was given golden chance to equalise three minutes from the end when he found himself free in the box but couldn’t beat Kim Jin-hyeon one on one.
In the other Group A match, being played at the same time in Newcastle, Oman beat Kuwait 1-0 to finish third in the group, courtesy of a 69th minute header from Abdul Aziz Al-Maqbal.
Neither team had the chance to advance after losing their first two matches.
Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty