Australia’s U23 side – The Olyroos – has suffered a 2-0 defeat against Malaysian Super League side Petaling Jaya City in Kuala Lumpur ahead of qualifiers for the AFC U23 Championships.
The Olyroos, who are led by Socceroos Head Coach Graham Arnold, are in Kuala Lumpur for a week-long training camp ahead of their opening qualifying game against Cambodia in Phenom Penh on 22 March.
Melbourne City’s Riley McGree and Nathaniel Atkinson, Western Sydney Wanderers Tass Mourdoukoutas and Newcastle Jets Joey Champness were amongst the A-League based starters for Australia, joined by the likes of Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeping prospect Tom Glover and Cerezo Osaka attacker Pierce Waring.
Initially, Arnold’s group were slated to undertake their pre-qualifying preparations in Thailand but the location was changed in the wake of the detention of Pascoe Vale FC defender Hakeem al-Araibi by Thai authorities at the behest of Bahrain.
Petaling Jaya City is in their first season in the Malaysian Super League and sits 10th in the twelve-team competition after six rounds with a single win, single draw and four losses.
Their last hit out in the Malaysian league came on Sunday when they lost 1-0 to Perak FA.
Nonetheless, despite the defeat, Arnold took positives from the clash, saying that it played a vital role in acclimatising his side to the oppressive conditions of Southeast Asia.
“Thursday’s match against a senior Malaysian top-flight side and our week together in Malaysia is absolutely invaluable ahead of next week’s qualifiers in Cambodia,” he said.
“For many of the players in the squad this week represents the first time that they have played in southeast Asia, so learning to adjust to the tough conditions that they will be playing in is paramount.
“We dominated many areas of Thursday’s game and hit the woodwork numerous times, so there were plenty of positives to take from the contest, particularly given the brief preparation that the players have had over the past few days.
“We are one of the unseeded teams for this phase of qualifying. This group are desperate to reach the 2020 AFC U-23 Championship in Thailand and are determined to become the first men’s football team to qualify for the Summer Olympics since 2008.
“I know our boys can achieve their goal, but they need time together to gel and learn about the demands of international football which is why this pre-camp leading up to Cambodia is so important.”
Australia will round out their preparations for their three qualifiers when they meet a Malaysian U23 side on Sunday at the Shah Alam Stadium. They will then fly to Phenom Penh to face Cambodia, Taiwan and South Korea in Group H of the AFC U23 Championship qualifiers.
A first-place finish in Group H would automatically seal Australia’s progression to the U23 AFC Championships, as would securing the status of one of the four best second-placed sides in qualifying.
The fifth-best second-placed team from the 11 groups will also qualify in the event that Thailand – who have qualified automatically for 2020 as the host nation – finish as either Group K winners or as one of the four best runners-up.
The 2020 AFC U23 Championships will then serve as the qualifiers for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.