Australia’s talisman Tim Cahill brushed off retirement talk before the Asian Cup final and cannily labelled South Korea favourites as he indulged in some mind games on Thursday.
The 35-year-old, whose explosive performances have propelled the hosts to the brink of their first Asian title, sidestepped the question of whether Saturday’s clash would be his last appearance in a Socceroos shirt.
“I’m not sure but that’s something I’ll talk about after,” Cahill told reporters in Sydney. “My main focus is the final and hopefully trying to win something that’s very special for our country.
“It’s definitely going to be one of our most difficult games but the boys are determined to do well which is the biggest factor.
“They have been really well drilled and it’s all about being mentally ready for 95 minutes of football because I don’t think this game is going to go to extra time.”
South Korea, who famously reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2002 but have failed to lift the Asian Cup in 55 years, beat Australia 1-0 in the group stages and Cahill sought to put pressure on the Red Devils by insisting they would be favourites in Sydney.
“People can say what they want,” Australia’s record goal-scorer said. “For us as players it doesn’t make a difference what people write or say because our focus is just to switch off from everything.
“If we’re favourites, excellent. But I feel that’s a bit of a hardship when Korea beat us so I think they’re probably favourites.”
Cahill scored in Australia’s opening 4-1 win over Kuwait and netted a stunning double in their 2-0 quarter-final victory over China, including a jaw-dropping bicycle kick, and the former Everton forward expects to be a marked man again against South Korea.
– Nation awaits –
“We definitely know a lot about their game,” he said. “They’re strong and they’re very physical. I don’t need love from the ref. Every single game I’ve come up against something different.
“First 45 minutes against China I touched the ball three times because the Chinese defenders had me wrapped up. A lot of their focus is do we be all over Tim Cahill, or do we give him space? Either way you can’t do it for 90 minutes. If you do, someone else is going to reap the rewards.”
Cahill, who has scored 39 goals in 81 games for the green and gold, pointed to Tuesday’s 2-0 semi-final victory over the United Arab Emirates, when goals from defenders Trent Sainsbury and Jason Davidson swept Australia into their second successive Asian Cup final.
“When you see two, three defenders holding me, Trent Sainsbury got free and scored a header,” he said. “Overall we’ve had 10 different goal-scorers and come the end of this game hopefully it will be 11, 12 or 13. We will play with intent. I’m pretty sure we’ll find a way to break them down.”
Cahill shrugged when asked about the pressure of delivering as a nation awaits.
“I don’t really feel the pressure,” he said. “I’m not scared of what’s ahead. I’m looking forward to embracing the challenge with my team-mates and adding that experience to make sure they understand to play the game, not the occasion.
Goalkeeper Mathew Ryan paid tribute to Cahill’s influence on the Socceroos.
“He’s like a big kid,” he joked. “He’s like one of us young guys, always playing FIFA (video games) and screaming the hotel walls down if he loses.
“But he’s a great role model, and there’s no need for me to speak about what what he’s done on the pitch. Off it, he’s just incredibly down to earth.”