A late goal from Massimo Luongo has saved Socceroos boss Graham Arnold from defeat in his first game in charge on home soil, with the midfielder’s heart-stopping, last-minute strike cancelling out Hwang Ui-Jo’s first-half opener at a sodden Suncorp Stadium.
Though the contest between Australia and the Koreans was nominally a warm-up for the two Asian powerhouses ahead of next year’s Asian Cup, Arnold in the lead-up had refused to entertain the thought of labelling the contest as a ‘friendly’.
“There is no friendlies,” Arnold said in his pre-match press conference
“When you put on that Australian shirt, every game we go out to win and expect to win every game.
“It’s all about building that belief and confidence in everything that we’re practicing.
“You will see tomorrow night [that] it’s a free-flowing game, a lot of energy, a lot of movement off the ball [and] a lot of movement with the ball.”
GOOOAAALL! Mass Luongo scores a 94th minute equaliser 😎
— Caltex Socceroos (@Socceroos) November 17, 2018
Only the second man – Les Scheinflug being the other – to both captain and manage the Australian national side on a permanent basis, Arnold on Saturday evening named what many would argue was the strongest available XI to him against the Taegeuk Warriors.
There were only two changes to the team that had started every game of the 2018 World Cup: Massimo Luongo replacing the retired Mile Jedinak at the base of the midfield, and Jamie Maclaren replacing Andrew Nabbout as the side’s spearhead.
As promised, Arnold’s Socceroos started the game with great energy. Right back Josh Risdon found the side netting with a shot, and Tom Rogic had a long-range effort deflected just wide for a corner in the opening minutes of the contest.
Rogic, who was superb early, then turned his defender sublimely as he received a throw-in in the 17th minute before springing left-back Aziz Behich down the left, the PSV Eindhoven defender, in turn, floating in a cross that Aaron Mooy met with a stinging volley that he just couldn’t keep down.
The bright opening 20 minutes was spoiled, however, when Trent Sainsbury and the rest of the Socceroos backline lost containment of Ui-jo at the halfway line, Korean defender Kim Min-jae catching them napping as he launched a long ball over the top for the Gamba Osaka striker from deep inside his own half.
The Socceroos were caught napping here! 💤
🇰🇷 🇰🇷 🇰🇷 pic.twitter.com/Iwg5dl9gM9
— FOX Sports Football (@FOXFOOTBALL) November 17, 2018
Running onto the ball, Ui-jo beat Sainsbury for pace to collect the ball before advancing forward and threading a shot past Australian keeper Matt Ryan, giving the Koreans the lead with their only shot on goal of the half.
Although they still attempted to push forward, the verve undoubtedly appeared to go out of the Socceroos’ attacks following the Koreans’ goal, Leckie and Rogic only able to muster half-hearted efforts goalward that proved easy pickings for Korean keeper Kim Seung-gyu.
With just seconds remaining in the opening stanza, proceedings were marred when Ui-jo went down with an injury that ultimately required the stretcher, the goalscorer taken off in obvious pain and not returning for the second half.
After a tepid opening to the second half, in which Australia side continued to fail to recapture the magic of their first 20 minutes, Rogic should have made it 1-1 in the 56th minute.
Latching onto a ball threaded perfectly through the Korean defence by Risdon after a scything cut inside from the right, the Celtic attacker fluffed his lines, failing to properly control the ball before putting a poor shot wide of the post.
Their game still dragging, the Socceroos were almost sparked back into life by the newly introduced Awer Mabil in the 69th minute.
Getting under a bouncing ball that had been pinballing around the area after initially being lofted in by Behich, Mabil launched an acrobatic bicycle kick pass towards Luongo, who lashed a half-volleyed effort wide of the goal.
Nevertheless, as they had done earlier in the half, the Koreans immediately proceeded to march up the other end and win a free kick, substitute Ju Se-Jong this time forcing Ryan to dive to his right and palm a ball away from the top corner to keep it 1-0.
Just WOW! 😱😱😱
Maty Ryan pulls of an incredible save.
— Caltex Socceroos (@Socceroos) November 17, 2018
Mabil and fellow substitute Martin Boyle – on debut for Australia – looked the most likely as Australia desperately searched for a last-minute equaliser and, eventually, it was Boyle that was heavily involved in the breakthrough.
Meeting a half-cleared Mooy corner in the 94th minute, Rogic put a half volley in on goal that was spilled by Seung-gyu. Though several Socceroos in the immediate vicinity were offside, the loose ball was met by Boyle, who hammered an effort into the chest of Seung-gyu and brought his teammates back onside.
Now able to touch the ball without infringing on play, Luongo lunged at the ball and turned it into the net, salvaging a draw for his side with almost the last kick of the game.