AN experimental Socceroos side had goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic to thank for somehow avoiding defeat in their ordinary East Asian Cup performance against a dominant South Korea in Seoul on Saturday night.
Second-best from the opening whistle, a Socceroos outfit made up mainly of A-League players and a sprinkling of Australia’s Asia-based contingent managed to escape with a 0-0 draw.
The brilliance of Galekovic, coupled with the hosts’ lack of a killer instinct in attack, ensured the Socceroos escaped with an undeserved point.
“I was obviously happy with how I performed and kept a clean sheet, so that was the main thing, ” said Galekovic, who enhanced his hopes of 2014 World Cup squad selection.
“We weren’t great in the first half, we all knew that and in the second half we came out and did a little bit better.”
The night was supposed to be a memorable occasion for Melbourne Victory star Mark Milligan, who became the 56th man to captain the Socceroos, getting the skipper’s armband ahead of Matt McKay.
But after picking up a yellow card late in the first half, Milligan was replaced at half-time by debutant Erik Paartalu.
China-based Paartalu wasn’t the only Australian who debuted last night, with Central Coast Mariners forward Mitchell Duke earning his maiden cap when he was chosen as the man to lead the Socceroos’ line in the absence of Josh Kennedy, who was not released for the tournament by his Japanese club Nagoya Grampus.
Clubs were not obliged to allow the players to leave as the tournament is being played on non-FIFA dates.
Recent Western Sydney Wanderers signing Tomi Juric also grabbed his first cap as a late replacement for Duke.
Newcastle Jets hardman Ruben Zadkovich was awarded just his second cap, as was new Melbourne Victory signing Mitch Nichols, who came on in the 75th minute for Adelaide United playmaker Dario Vidosic.
Socceroos coach Holger Osieck praised his team’s “fighting spirit” despite them being outclassed for the entire contest.
“As I said before, the tournament will be a good opportunity for me to look at individual players and their perspective for the future, ” Osieck said.
“Our boys have not played football for a couple of months with the exception of the three players who play in the Chinese league, so I knew it would be very difficult for us as our physical level was definitely not as high as it would be normally.’’
Under new coach Hong Myong-Bo, South Korea also fielded a new-look team, but were classy all over the pitch, except for their finishing.
The hosts dominated the first half, with the Socceroos, apart from Galekovic, powerless to stop the onslaught.
The Adelaide United custodian made at least half a dozen quality saves to hold the superior South Koreans at bay.
The Socceroos rarely got out of their half in the opening 45 minutes, with the hosts finding a huge amount of space in between Australia’s defensive and midfield lines.
Attacking weapon Yun Il-Lok, on debut seemed certain to score in the 15th minute after being superbly set up by Lee Seung-Gi.
But a smart save from Galekovic low down to his right prevented the hosts taking the lead.
Australia’s first attack didn’t come until the 17th minute and it was started by the unlikely source of defender Ryan McGowan, who went on a 40-metre run upfield before finding Archie Thompson on the right.
The Melbourne Victory star cut the ball back into the path of Vidosic, but the 2010 World Cup squad member failed to connect.
It was a rare attacking foray from the Socceroos, who were on the back foot for the remainder of their opening stanza and often resorted to desperate clearances from their stretched back four of Ivan Franjic, McGowan, Jade North and Michael Thwaite.
Galekovic again denied Yun in the 18th minute and immediately after was called into action to deny Lee.
The Socceroos gloveman again excelled in the 29th minute, tipping a blistering 25-metre free kick from Kim Young-Gwon around the post.
Galekovic again came to Australia’s rescue in the final five minutes of the half, denying Kim Dong-Sub and Yun.
Even when Galekovic was beaten, the Socceroos’ rode their luck, with the woodwork coming to their rescue in the 76th minute after a deflected shot from Yeom Ki-Hun.
The Australians continue their East Asian Cup campaign on Thursday night against Japan.
Socceroos: Eugene Galekovic, Ryan McGowan, Jade North, Michael Thwaite, Matt McKay, Mark Milligan (c), Ruben Zadkovich, Ivan Franjic, Archie Thompson, Dario Vidosic, Mitchell Duke.
South Korea: Jung Sung-Ryong, Kim Jin-Su, Kim Younggwon, Hong Jeong-Ho, Kim Chang-Soo, Lee Seung-Gi, Yun Il-Lok, Go Yo-Han, Lee Myoung-Joo, Ha Dae-Sung (c), Kim Dong-Sub.
Herald Sun -21/07/2013