Asian Cup: South Korea have the mental strength to get past Socceroos in final, says Ki

Kim Young Gwon of South Korea (centre left) celebrates scoring their second goal with captain Ki sung Yueng (centre right) against Iraq during the AFC Asian Cup semi-final football match in Sydney on Jan 26, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
Kim Young Gwon of South Korea (centre left) celebrates scoring their second goal with captain Ki sung Yueng (centre right) against Iraq during the AFC Asian Cup semi-final football match in Sydney on Jan 26, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (AFP) - South Korea could thrive in the role of underdogs when they face hosts Australia in the Asian Cup final this weekend, says skipper Ki Sung Yueng.

Having reached the final for the first time in 27 years battered, bruised and held together by team spirit and sheer bloody-mindedness, the Swansea City midfielder told Korean reporters on Wednesday that the Red Devils had the steel to go all the way.

"I believe it will come down to mental strength," said Ki, who has been a calming influence after South Korea lost the influential pairing of Lee Chung Yong and Koo Ja Cheol to injury in the group stages.

"That will be more important than physical strength," he added, noting that the Australians would hold the advantage in terms of power.

South Korea's rich pedigree speaks for itself, with the team reaching the World Cup semi-finals in 2002. But they have failed to lift the Asian Cup since 1960.

But coach Uli Stielike has moulded a resilient side, with the Taeguk Warriors reaching the final without conceding a goal and beating Australia 1-0 along the way to secure top spot in Group A.

Forward Lee Jeong Hyeop has become a hit with fans after scoring the winner against the Socceroos and another in Monday's 2-0 win over Iraq in the semi-finals.

A shock selection by Stielike before the tournament, he confessed he had no idea if he would start in the final - and insisted it did not matter either way.

"It's not about personal milestones at all. All that matters is winning the title. People are talking about me because I've scored a couple of goals but my job is to score goals."

Lee warned that Australia would be fired up as they chase a first Asian title in front of home fans.

"They will be more prepared this time," he said.

"That means we will have to analyse them more closely too and be ready."