The Socceroos have suffered defeat in their first game back in action since the Asian Cup, falling 1-0 to South Korea on Friday night.
Hwang Ui-Jo, who had scored against Australia in Graham Arnold’s second game in charge of the Socceroos in November 2018, did the damage for the Asian powerhouses; turning a deflected cross into the Australian net in the 76th minute.
It gave the Koreans a win against a Socceroos side featuring a host of new faces amongst its ranks; with the likes of Aaron Mooy, Mat Ryan, Trent Sainsbury, Matt Leckie or Mark Milligan all rested.
Instead, A-League figures such as Andrew Redmayne, Craig Goodwin and Brandon O’Neill were all handed starts, as were fringe European based players such as Mustafa Amini and James Jeggo.
The good news for Arnold’s experimental line-up was that they were, despite coming up against a strong South Korean side, able to give a decent account of themselves.
Rarely looking uncomfortable with the attention given to them by their Korean opponents, the Socceroos were able to settle well into a hostile environment in the packed Busan Asiad Stadium.
The Socceroos outshot their highly fancied opponents four to zero in the opening 45 minutes; Sydney FC midfielder O’Neill creating the Australian’s first chance in the tenth minute after sliding in to dispossess Ju Se-Jong.
Pouncing on the loose ball, Adelaide United’s Goodwin then slid a pass into the path of Mitch Duke, only for the Western Sydney Wanderers attacker’s resulting shot to cannon well wide of the goal.
Four minutes the Socceroos had another chance to take the lead when Rhyan Grant nipped in to win the ball in the middle of the park and get the ball to O’Neill, who promptly moved the ball onward to Goodwin.
Looking up, Goodwin swung a left-footed effort in towards the back post for a waiting Awer Mabil to wing a boot at volley towards goal. However, the FC Midtjylland winger’s shot lacked true power and Korean goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu was able to save.
In the 18th minute, the Socceroos had yet another chance to take the lead – this time from an O’Neill corner.
Swinging the ball in towards the near post, the 25-year-old was able to find the head of a waiting Duke but, once again, there was no joy for the Socceroos as the glancing header from the attacker was off the post and cleared.
The Socceroos had one final clear opportunity to take the lead with five minutes remaining in the half when a corner was only cleared by the Korean defence as far as a waiting Grant on edge of the area.
Winding up a shot, Grant hammered an effort goalward but was unable to avoid the bodies of a charging Korean defence.
Without a shot in the first half, the Koreans had had perhaps only two real chances of note in the opening stanza; a dangerous ball into the area after a Mabil turnover from Kim Jin-Su snuffed out by Bailey Wright before it could reach Jae-Sung Lee in the 35th minute and Matthew Jurman almost turning a Kim Min-Jae cross into his own net after the Korean defender had launched a surging run down the right.
Tempering what would have been a perfect start for the Socceroos, though, the fact that, for all their control, they had nonetheless struggled to create clear cut chances against their northeast Asian opposition; all of their shots coming either from quick moves in transition from broken play or set pieces.
Nonetheless, it was a positive opening 45; Amini and Jeggo, in particular, doing nothing to shame themselves in a rare Socceroos start.
Grant – increasingly making the right-back role his own under Arnold – once again threw himself about with the energy that endears him to supporters and makes him a figure of derision for his foes.
Beginning the second half moves in transition once again were the preeminent form of attacking danger but, whereas they had failed to create much in that regard in the first half, it was the Koreans that flashed the most dangerous in the early stages of the second.
Tottenham Hotspur superstar Son Heung-Min had a chance to take the lead in the 64th minute with a long-range free-kick but his effort was one which won’t make the highlight reel of his splendid 2018/19 season; hammering into the wall and trickling through tamely to Redmayne.
Arnold swung a number of changes on the hour mark, bringing on Adam Taggart in the 62nd minute and handing Brandon Borrello and Ryan Williams in the 70th and 74th minutes – but it was the Koreans that used some fresh blood of their own to take the lead in the 76th minute.
Looking up as he and his fellow defenders worked the ball between them, Min-Jae drove a long diagonal ball across the field to the newly introduced Hong Chul on the right, springing him into space.
The resulting cross promptly glanced off Borrello and continued onwards, sitting perfectly for the also recently introduced Hwang.
Getting to it front of a charging Redmayne, the Gamba Osaka man got a fleeting touch on it, enough to guide it around the Australian keeper and into the net to make it 1-0 to the hosts.
Redmayne was called into action again in the 83rd minute to keep that margin at one when Son worked himself into a yard of space just outside the area and let loose with a right-footed effort; the Sydney FC custodian getting down low and to his right to make the save.
Though the introduction of another debutant in Ryan Williams did serve to show some promise down the left flank, Australia was unable to work its way back into the contest; falling to a 1-0 defeat after a second half that, though by no means a shellacking, was controlled by the Koreans.