Australia U16 bow out of the 2018 AFC Championship

By Paul Green, in Malaysia

 

Australia’s Under-16 team has bowed out of the 2018 AFC Under-16 Championship at the semi-final stage after suffering a 3-1 defeat at the hands of the highly-polished Japan on Thursday afternoon at the National Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.

But it’s not all doom and gloom for coach Trevor Morgan and his squad who have already qualified for the 2019 Under-19 World Cup in Peru.

There was a lot to like about the Joeys’ performance against Japan as it took almost an hour for Japan to find an equaliser after Australia had opened the scoring in the eighth minute and looked a very good side indeed over the opening half hour at least.

Morgan was able to smile broadly post-match as he assessed the damage.

“We were beaten by the better side today, but we played some good football and considering we’ve only had 35 days together before this tournament I think we’ve made excellent progress.

“We’ve qualified for the World Cup next year and before then we’ll have to do a lot of work to correct the mistakes we have been making”.

“We need to work on our fitness levels and ball retention especially and cut out those silly mistakes”.

This time, however, it was Japan who were punished for an early error as a stray backpass, intercepted by Noah Botic, led to Japan defender Konshiro Sumi clumsily bringing the Australian striker down well inside the penalty-area.

Botic, himself, stepped up and confidently put the ball past a wrong-footed keeper.

Australia’s approach play was delightful in the opening period of the first-half, with passes made with precision to the feet of the attackers and a number of good chances were fashioned.

Australia were also very strong on the ball, very hard to dispossess in the early period with Japan struggling to get any foothold.

But Japan gradually worked their way into the game and were responsible for some degree of anxiety in the Australian goalmouth late in the half.

Japan striker Keita Nakano rocked the crossbar in the 28th minute and then in the 42nd Shunsuke Mito brought out a top save from Joeys’ keeper Adam Pavlesic.

Japan also forced a number of corners and looked capable by that stage of getting back in the game.

After the break Japan, who had rested several of their star players, introduced chief playmaker Jun Nishikawa.

His influence was noticed immediately and the confidence began to switch from the Australian players to the Japanese.

Nevertheless Australia hung on, despite a persistent threat by Japan, with Nishikawa prominent in every move.

Finally the goal that Japan looked likely to score arrived in the 59th from Shoji Toyama who finished off a lightning fast exchange of passes on his team’s passage into the penalty area by tucking the ball neatly past Pavlesic.

Ten minutes later the same player gave Japan the lead after a misdirected clearance by Pavlesic who received the ball unchallenged 30 yards out and then took the ball through to find the net easily.

A through ball enabled Shunsuke Mito to deliver a third goal in the 78th, to put the game beyond a flagging Australia’s reach.

Botic had a couple of chances in stoppage-time to reduce the deficit, but was out of luck which left Japan the clear winners after an entertaining game of football, appreciated by a crowd which included a very vocal Australian presence.

Japan will now meet Tajikistan who surprised tournament favourites Korea Republic later in the evening.

Korea had not conceded a goal until Tajikistan breached their defence with an early goal and then prevailed on penalties after Korea had equalised later in the first half.

Tajikistan, who had lost their opening game against Malaysia 6-2, later held Japan to 0-0 in the Group Stage, so should hold no fears in the Final, now, having coped with the threat from Korea quite comfortably.

Australia, meanwhile, will take some pride in their performances in this tournament as they look ahead to their next assignment in Peru next year.

Match details:

Australia: Adam Pavlesic; Thomas Lambris, Jordan Courtney-Perkins, Alexander Popivic, Adam Leombruno; Luke Duzel, Lachlan Sepping (Jaiden Kucharski 66), Ryan Teague (C); Jayden Gorman (Tristan Hammond 66), Joshua Varga (Joseph Roddy 81), Noah Botic

Substitutes not used:
Oliver Kalac (GK), Ahmad Taleb (GK), Timothy Boke, Kerrin Stokes, Jordan Bos, Adam Zervas, Joshua Benson

Yellow card: Jordan Courtney-Perkins 48′

Attendance: 224

Weather: Sunny with sporadic showers

Pitch: 9/10

Match: 8/10

Referee: Omar Mohamed Ahmed Hassan Al-Ali (UAE)