Australian U16 boys into AFC Semi Finals & Under-17 World Cup

By Paul Green, in Malaysia:

Australia are through to the bi-annual Under-17 World Cup, to be staged next year in Peru, after narrowly defeating Indonesia 3-2 in Monday’s AFC Under-16 Championship Quarter Final at the National Stadium at Bukit Jalil in Kuala Lumpur.

Only the four semi-finalists from the 16 teams go through to the Under-17 event next year and Australia took some time to find their feet in these AFC games, struggling against a clearly superior Korea Republic in their opening game, before regrouping and just edging Iraq 2-1 in their second match.

Beating a ten-man Afghanistan 4-0 allowed the Joeys to move through into the Quarters, much to the relief of experienced youth coach Trevor Morgan.

Morgan, 47 and with 20 years of youth level coaching behind him, is well aware of the conflicting demands of combining player development with successful results, as players in this age group still have much to learn and are prone to what one of the other coaches at the tournament explained are known as ‘schoolboy errors’ and not without reason, as 15 and 16 year olds will return to school when this tournament is all over, that coach pointed out.

Australia have shown steady improvement and in the game against Indonesia, played out in front of a remarkably large crowd of 13,743 fans, all but a hundred or so of them visiting Australians, put on a great show of quality football.

After a ball was needlessly given away in the 17th minute, with a stray pass across the top of the Australian penalty-area made by winger Joseph Roddy, Indonesian hot-shot, Sutan Diego Armandoondriano (known in the team as Sutan Zico) took quick control and showing quick feet soon had his side in the lead with a confident finish.

This was a blow to Australia who had begun the game brightly and shown some delightful lead-up work prior to conceding.

As the volume levels rose amongst the passionate Indonesian fans, who’d travelled from home specifically for this tournament and been out on force at every game, Australia stuck to their task and showed huge self-belief, managing to draw level in the 51st minute with a superb towering header at the far-post by centre-back Daniel Walsh

The half-time talk must have been all about reinforcing confidence as Australia played with great authority once the second-half began and almost silenced the crowd when they equalised.

Indonesian heads dropped noticeably for a while after that and when Trevor Morgan sent on two creative players as substitutes in the 62nd minute the Australian impetus gained even further momentum.

On came Sporting Lisbon tyro Tristan Hammond and lively wingman Joshua Varga.

A beautiful build-up involving a number of Australian players in the 65th minute allowed wide left defender Adam Leombruno to rifle the ball across the keeper and into the bottom right corner of the net to have Australia in front 2-1.

In the 74th it became 3-1 as Noah Botic demonstrated that he’s more than a mere target man by accepting a pass from Varga and deftly working the ball through a packed Indonesian penalty area to slip it past the Indonesian keeper for the third of Australia’s high-quality goals.

Urged on by a lustily-singing crowd Indonesia gave it their all after this and while Australia continued to look for a fourth goal Indonesia weren’t finished yet.

They forced big saves from Australia keeper Adam Pavlesic, as well as squandering some gilt-edged chances as their opponents defended grimly.

In the 89th they got their reward when a free-kick on the left saw the ball fed through to the skilful substitute Rendy Juliansyah, via Sutan Zico, and Rendy had enough room to put the ball high into the top left corner of the net.

Four nervous minutes of stoppage-time ensued before Korea Republic referee Kim Woosung called a halt to proceedings.

As Australia’s players and technical staff celebrated mid-pitch, Indonesian players, mostly prostrate on the sodden turf, still received the massive plaudits of their supporters who recognised their efforts, despite the disappointment of losing the Quarter Final.
Photos: Paul Green two media conference. Other photos by S.K.Chan