Ante Milicic’s Young Socceroos have tasted defeat in their first fixture under the Socceroos assistant, going down 1-0 to Japan in the opening game of the 2018 Shizuoka Broadcasting System (SBS) Cup in Japan.
Taking charge in his first game since it was announced he would take guide the Young Socceroos and Graham Arnold would steer the Olyroos, Milicic’s lineup featured four members of Melbourne City, two from Western Sydney, two of the Brisbane Roar, and one Sydney FC, Adelaide United and Perth Glory representative.
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As a unit, they showed the occasional flash of potential against the Blue Samurai, but for the most part never appeared likely of challenging the host nation.
The Young Socceroos (technically the squad is made up of players born in 2000 or after but Young Socceroos is more elegant), started the slower of the two sides at Fujieda Stadium; not able to find their groove until almost ten minutes of the 40-minute first half had expired.
Although they were able to briefly wrest control of the game after those first ten minutes – Melbourne City’s Dylan Pierias and Perth Glory’s Jacob Italiano looking capable of causing the Japanese headaches on the right flank – the Young Socceroos designs on consolidating their control on the game were quickly dashed by Japanese attacker Taisei Miyashiro.
The 18-year-old, who is attached to J-League side Kawasaki Frontale, announced his intentions in the 17th minute of the contest when he found space between the lines of the Young Socceroos outside the penalty area; launching a stinging long-range effort that Western Sydney goalkeeper Nicholas Suman could only parry back into play.
Two minutes later he put another scare through Australia when he was played through on goal by Riku Danzaki. The attacker’s touch was poor, however, leaving the ball behind him and his subsequent attempt to flick the ball forward going straight into the hands of Suman.
The third time would prove the charm for the dangerous Japanese forward nonetheless, when he finally found the back in the 26th minute to give his side the lead.
Receiving the ball on the right corner of the penalty area, Miyashiro cut back to his left, before sliding a left-footed effort past Suman and inside the far post.
Suman perhaps should have done better in goal, the shot appeared saveable, but unfortunately, the young keeper looked to lose the ball in the sea of players in front of him; wrong-footed when it finally came upon him.
Australia had a half-chance – unfortunately, what proved to be one their best ones – on the half-hour mark: Adelaide United’s Louis D’Arrigo floating in a half-cross/half-shot that took an awkward bounce on the edge of the six-yard box in front of Japanese keeper Leo Brian Kokubo before ultimately bounce wide.
The second half brought more of the same, with the suffocating press that the Japanese employed throughout the 80 minutes of the contest preventing Australia from settling into any kind of rhythm on the ball.
Countering quickly in the 49th minute of play after forcing a turnover when Pierias had roamed forward, Soichiro Kozuki broke into the space left empty by the right back. Eventually swinging a dangerous cross into the area, Kozuki found a waiting Danzaki at the far post, only for the resulting header to sail wide into the side netting.
Two minutes later, Japan keeping Australia packed into their own backline, Kaisei Ishi launched a speculative effort from long-range, forcing Suman into a fine diving save to his right.
Although Australia would have some half chances as the game wound down, Kai Trewin of the Brisbane Roar heading wide from a corner in the 67th minute and the substitute pairing of Western Sydney attackers Mohamed Adam and John Roberts almost combining in the 75th, they never really looked like troubling Kashiwa Reysol’s Kokubo; Japan running out worthy winners.
Pressed into submission
Australia, having had little chance to train together after only linking up in Japan a couple of days before the tournament, was unable to find any rhythm against the press employed by the Blue Samurai on Thursday evening.
At times looking outright disjointed, Australia were often forced into rushed passes and long balls forward, preventing attackers Moudi Najjar, Ramy Najjarine and Italiano from ever getting going.
Ultimately, Milicic’s side failed to ever truly trouble Kokubo throughout the contest, never producing what could be described as a serious shot on goal.
Australia’s attention will now turn to playing a collection of the finest Paraguayan players born in 2000 or later tomorrow night at the Ashitaka Athletic Park Stadium, with Milicic no doubt hoping that his side will be more in sync as a result of the eighty minutes played against Japan.
Pierias impresses… mostly
Pierias has been widely tipped to be one of the next breakout stars from Melbourne City’s academy and he put in one of Australia’s best performances against Japan; proving himself capable of snuffing out opposition attacks and sparking moves forward from his position at right back.
Nevertheless, his attacking instincts also proved to be a double-edged sword for Australia.
Captaining the side, Pierias often looked to spark Australia into action against the Japanese press by running the ball out of defence and looking to beat one, two or more Japanese, a trademark of his play with City’s youth side.
However, the lack of familiarity his City teammates had with him often meant that this resulted in gaps in defence for the Japanese to exploit.
Whilst his ability to get the ball forward and create goalscoring opportunities is what makes Pierias such a special player, the 18-year-old will be forced to weigh whether his forays forward are worth the risk in the SBS Cup, his fellow defenders clearly not used to his style of play.
Taisei Miyashiro a future star
Miyashiro put in a man of the match performance on Thursday night, breaking through the Australian defensive lines again and again.
The 18-year-old appeared comfortable on the ball and willing to back himself against Australia, his efforts in the first half clearly the best that either side would have throughout the game.
Playing with Kawasaki Frontale, there is every chance that the centre-forward may make an appearance in future Asian Champions League games against A-League opposition in the future and based on Thursday night’s performance, one wouldn’t bet against the youngster from facing up against the Socceroos in senior international competition in future years.