October 24, 2017

Asian Cup Final: The Leverkusen Connection- Son vs Kruse

On Saturday morning the Bayer Leverkusen squad will be waking up and turning their attentions to their evening match at home to Borussia Dortmund, which kicks off the ‘Werkself’s Bundesliga Rückrunde.
10,000 miles away in Sydney though, two of the squad will have their eyes focused on a quite different match- the 2015 Asian Cup Final which pits hosts Australia against South Korea.

The showpiece of the Asian continental tournament also pits Leverkusen striker Son Heung-Min against club mate and fellow striker Robbie Kruse. Whichever team comes out triumphant at Stadium Australia, one thing is certain- Bayer Leverkusen will have an Asian champion flying home in a few days’ time.

South Korea, in their first final for 27 years will be looking to Son to repeat the goalscoring heroics, which saw them through in the quarter-final against Uzbekistan. The 22-year-old scored twice in extra-time to send his side through to a semi-final clash with Iraq.

The tournament however has been an up and down ride for the striker. Son started South Korea’s opening match with Oman but was absent for the second game against Kuwait and could only muster 41 minutes from the bench against Australia as he battled a virus.

Sufficiently recovered for the quarter-final the two-times KFA Footballer of the Year opened the scoring against the Uzbeks with a 104th minute header before adding a second with an unstoppable drive from a Cha Du-Ri’s cutback.

With the final berth secured with a 2-0 victory over Iraq, Son wanted to put the lid on any premature celebrations. “It’s far too early for us to be talking about the title. Every game has such a different complexion that you just can’t say” he said.

“We still have a massive game to play in the final so we can’t afford to be talking about lifting the trophy. I felt we dominated the game. We certainly gave it everything we could in order to get the victory. Our supporters were amazing and gave us that extra power to see the game through” he added.
For Son’s team mate at the Bay-Arena, Robbie Kruse, the final serves as a chance of redemption and to finally put the injury misery from his recent past behind him.

The ‘Werkself’ forward missed the World Cup last year after being forced to undergo knee surgery and is only now approaching his best form. A first-choice in coach Ange Postecoglou’s forward line, the 26-year-old scored in the 4-0 group win over Oman after he controlled a through ball well before firing it into the net through the legs of Ali Al-Habsi.

Having played just 171 minutes of football for Bayer Leverkusen this season (falling behind Son, Bellarabi and Drmic in the pecking order) the Asian Cup has proved a great fillip for the Brisbane-born Socceroo.

“The national team has provided him with that sort of outlet where he has played five games of really good football and he’s looking like his old self” Postecoglou explains.

“Him and Lecks (Matthew Leckie), they may not get all the headlines all the time but the amount of work they do on and off the ball, it helps us tremendously as a team, they start with the defensive pressure.
“And it’s great for Robbie, he has got a spring back in his step. Hopefully that means that when he goes back to Germany he takes that confidence into it”.

So, it’s a win-win situation for Bayer whoever is victorious on Saturday.

The Leverkusen pair aren’t the only Bundesliga stars likely to line up for the final. Hoffenheim fullback Kim Jin-su should take his place in the Taeguk Warriors’ side, while Bundesliga II leaders FC Ingolstadt will see forward Matthew Leckie partnering Kruse up front. Dortmund second keeper Mitch Langerak will be on the bench. Mainz midfielder Koo Ja-Cheol though won’t feature after being ruled out with an elbow injury.

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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.

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