BRISBANE, Australia - South Korean coach Uli Stielike warned that his side now had a tournament-winning mentality after a pulsating 1-0 victory over Asian Cup hosts Australia in Brisbane on Saturday.
A razor-sharp finish from rookie striker Lee Jeong-Hyeop in the first half was enough to give the Koreans the three points, ensuring they topped their group.
Lee, playing in only his second match for the Taeguk Warriors, struck after 32 minutes to stun the Australians, who had dominated up until then and who created the lion's share of the chances in a blockbuster clash in Brisbane.
Stielike said the match felt like a final rather than a group game, but told reporters he placed little significance on finishing top of Group A.
"I was not worried about first or second place in the group, but I was worried about our performances in the first two games (narrow wins against Oman and Kuwait)," the German said.
"We had to show our mentality had changed - that it would become a winning mentality, a tournament mentality, and the players showed this today." The Socceroos should have at least salvaged a draw, but wastefulness in front of goal scuppered their hopes of topping Group A and put them on a collision course with holders Japan if the teams make the semi-finals.
The hosts now face the tournament's surprise package China in a quarter-final, also in Brisbane, on Thursday, while South Korea will take on either Uzbekistan or Saudi Arabia in Melbourne.
Stielike agreed with Australian counterpart Ange Postecoglou that the match could have gone either way.
"We are the winner but we saw some good opportunities for Australia and maybe it could have been 1-1," he said. "But for us the result was not important, we didn't mind who we play from now on. The performance is what was important."
Postecoglou made four changes from the home side's 4-0 win over Oman, opting to leave Tim Cahill and Robbie Kruse on the bench, while Stielike made six to the side that beat Kuwait.
In a match played in stifling heat, humidity and a plague of moths, the Socceroos missed the firepower of Cahill, Austalia's record goal scorer.
They had a string of good chances through stikers Tomi Juric and Nathan Burns but were unable to break through.
World Cup semi-finalists in 2002 but without an Asian Cup title in 55 years, South Korea caught Australia with a sucker punch when Lee ghosted in at the near post and timed his lunge to perfection as he met a low cross from Lee Keun-Ho to flick the ball past Mathew Ryan.
Juric blew a great chance to equalise in the second half before Burns went close in the 70th minute after a mazy run, only for his shot to be tipped onto the bar by Kim Jin-Hyeon.
Postecoglou threw on Cahill and Kruse with 20 minutes to go, but it was too little too late and the Koreans held on, the final whistle triggering a chorus of boos from a crowd of 48,000 directed at perceived Korean time-wasting towards the end of the match.
"I can't fault the players," said Postecoglou. "They gave it everything and right to the end we created chances, but it wasn't to be." He defended his decision to start with Juric and Burns up front, insisting: "On another night they both could have had a goal."