SYDNEY (AFP) - Son Heung-Min said he was sorry South Korea were unable to lift the Asian Cup against Australia on Saturday after coming agonisingly close to ending their 55-year title drought.
The Bayer Leverkusen star snatched a sensational equaliser in the dying seconds to force extra time, but the Koreans tired and substitute James Troisi rifled home for a 2-1 Socceroos victory.
Son - who recovered from flu to bag a double against Uzbekistan in the quarter-finals - broke down sobbing at the end, as the Taeguk Warriors failed to win their first Asian Cup since 1960.
"Those were not tears of happiness," Son told reporters afterwards. "I was so emotional at the end of the match and wanted the win so much that I could not control my feelings.
"I'm sorry for the fans and older players like Cha Du-Ri that we could not win. I wish I could have done more," he added.
Son did more than most, his goal a moment of sheer class in injury time, bursting through to fire past goalkeeper Mathew Ryan after a clever flick from captain Ki Sung-Yueng.
But the Koreans, who were ravaged by injuries and sickness during the tournament, couldn't keep Australia out and the players slumped to the turf as the referee blew his final whistle.
CHA'S LAST GAME
Captain Ki said fatigue had been the difference.
"When we scored the goal I thought we had the chance to win the game but some of the boys were really tired in their legs," the Swansea City midfielder explained.
"The goal gave us a lot of strength but Australia physically were stronger than us. We're very disappointed we couldn't get the right result but it happens sometimes."
South Korea lost influential pair Lee Chung-Yong and Koo Ja-Cheol to injury at the group stage and Ki said the team should be proud of reaching their first Asian Cup final in 27 years.
"It was very tough for us because they had to be replaced with less experienced players but they will have learned a lot from this."
An emotional Cha confirmed he'd played his last game for the national team.
"Today was my last game for my country. Even although we lost today I want to thank all of my team-mates who tried their best until the very last kick of the game," he said.
"Although we did not win the way, the way the players performed is one of the best gifts I could ever receive from them," added the 34-year-old.
The Korean squad was pelted with toffee, a traditional Korean insult, when they arrived home from Brazil following a disastrous World Cup campaign last summer.
But Cha, who has more than 70 appearances for South Korea, said he was expecting a different response when the players arrive back in South Korea from Australia.
"A few months ago the fans were very discouraged by us but we have improved so much and everyone should now feel very proud," said the former Celtic defender.