The state of play for Australia’s junior sides

The state of play for Australia’s junior sides


Lost, perhaps, amidst the Matildas’ exit from the 2019 Women’s World Cup and the release of the highly anticipated Second Division White Paper was the news on June 19 that newly installed National Director Rob Sherman was set to lead a review into Australian youth development.

Joined by former AIS and Perth Glory Head Coach Ron Smith, former Socceroo Craig Moore, Joeys’ Assistant Coach Michael Cooper and A-League representatives Ian Crook (Western Sydney Wanderers), Kelly Cross (Sydney FC), Steven McGarry (Perth Glory) and Drew Sherman (Melbourne Victory), R Sherman’s review will first examine A-League academy structures before branching out to examine the broader Australian footballing ecosystem.

One part of the ecology sure to come to under the microscope of R Sherman and his panel will be the fortunes of Australia’s junior representative sides; whose performance in recent years hasn’t scratched the highs previously reached by the likes of the 1992 Olyroos squad, 1993 Young Socceroos Squad, 1999 Joeys or 2002 Young Matildas.

The rapid development of football in Asia and, in the case of women’s football, Europe has led to a greater focus being placed upon the performance of junior sides in international competition and an establishment of a national scouting database for Australian national teams has already been floated as a possible result of the review.

Australia currently maintains five widely recognised junior national sides – three in men’s football and two in women’s football, all of which are at various stages of their international calendars.

  • Olyroos

Led by Graham Arnold – who juggles the role with his duties as Head Coach of the Socceroos – the Olyroos recently secured qualification for the 2020 AFC U23 Championship as one of the four best group runners up in qualifying during March.

Dispatching Cambodia 6-0 in the opening game of qualification before following up with another 6-0 win over Chinese Taipei, the Olyroos were unable to hold onto a 2-0 lead against South Korea in their final group match and eventually drew 2-2. That result, however, proved enough to secure passage to next January’s tournament in Thailand.

Though a number of concerns have been raised about Arnold taking on responsibility for both the senior and U23 sides, one of the potential benefits of the approach was demonstrated when towering defender Harry Souttar – who turned heads under Arnold for the Olyroos – earned a call-up to the senior men’s side squad for a friendly against South Korea.

To secure progression to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, the Olyroos will have to finish as either a finalist or winner of the third-place game at the coming U23 Championships unless Japan – who, as hosts, are already guaranteed a place at the Olympics – are one of the final four, in which case a semi-finals appearance would suffice for qualifying.

Australia has never progressed beyond the quarterfinals of the AFC U23 Championships: their previous best coming in Oman in 2013 when they made the quarterfinals before being eliminated by Saudi Arabia.

The Olyroos best result at the Olympics came in Barcelona back in 1992, when a side coached by Eddie Thompson and featuring the likes of Ned Zelic, Tony Vidmar, Paul Okon and Mark Bosnich finished fourth.

In their most recent trip to the Olympics in 2008, the Olyroos – who coincidently were then managed by Arnold as well – exited in the Group Stage after a draw with Serbia and losses to Argentina and Ivory Coast.

  • Young Socceroos

Australia’s U20s had been without a coach since February, when then boss Ante Milicic was tapped on the shoulder by the FFA to take over the Matildas. On Thursday, though, that changed when Matildas’ assistant and Young Matildas gaffer Gary van Egmond was appointed as the side’s new boss.

The 54-year-old takes over a Young Socceroos group that was conspicuously absent from the recently completed U20 World Cup in Poland, a tournament in which fellow AFC side South Korea progressed all the way to the final.

Australia failed to qualify for that World Cup after being eliminated in the quarterfinals of the 2018 AFC U19 Championships in Indonesia; bundled out by eventual champions Saudi Arabia.

The side’s best performance in Asian competition came in China back in 2010, where a Jan Versleijen led squad featuring names such as Terry Antonis, Rhyan Grant, Jason Davidson and Matt Leckie advanced all the way to the final of the AFC U19 Championship before losing 3-2 to North Korea.

At the subsequent World Cup in Colombia, that group exited in the group stages; a feat they then replicated in 2013 in Turkey. 2013 marks the group’s last appearance at the U20 World Cup.

The Young Socceroos’ ever result at the U20 World Cup came in 1991 and 1993 when, first in Portugal on then on home soil, Les Scheinflug guided the team to back-to-back semi-finals.

The quest to secure a place at the 2021 U20 World Cup will begin for Australia this November when they travel to Chinese Taipei for qualification games against Group H opponents Chinese Taipei, Macau and Laos.

Topping that group – or finishing as one of the four best runners up – will ensure progression the 2020 AFC U19 Championship, which will, in turn, serve as qualification for the 2021 World Cup.

Gary van Egmond is set to take charge of the Young Socceroos
  • Young Matildas

Currently without a coach following the shifting of van Egmond to the Young Socceroos job, the Young Matildas are currently in the midst of preparations for the 2019 AFC U19 Women’s Championship in Thailand this October/November.

Drawn in a group alongside the host nation, North Korea and Vietnam, the Young Matildas will need to finish one of the top two sides in the group to advance to the tournament’s semi-finals; where they would then meet one of two sides from of a group containing Japan, China, South Korea and Myanmar.

A win in the semi-final would guarantee progression to their first U20 Women’s World Cup since the 2006 tournament in Russia, when they exited in the group stages. A loss, however, would mean that Australia would have to win the third-placed playoff to ensure that its 14-year absence from the World Cup isn’t extended.

The Young Matildas failed to qualify for the 2018 U20 Women’s World Cup after falling at that third-placed hurdle in the 2017 AFC U19 Women’s Championship; going down 3-0 to China.

Their previous best performance at the AFC U19 Women’s Championship came in 2006, in which they finished third, whereas their best performance at the World Cup came in Canada in 2002.

There, a squad coached by Mike Mulvey and featuring the likes of Kate Gill, Caitlin Munoz, Karla Reuter, Thea Slayter and Kate McShea was eliminated by a Brazilian side fielding future global superstar Marta via a golden goal in the quarterfinals.

  • Joeys

The lone junior Australian side with a World Championships guaranteed in their immediate future, Trevor Morgan’s Joeys – made up of players born between the start of 2002 and end of 2004 – will be off to Brazil to take part in the 2019 U17 World Cup in Brazil this October/November.

Advancing out of the group stages at the 2018 AFC U16 Championships in second place behind South Korea, the Joeys secured progression to the World Cup after defeating Indonesia 3-2 in the quarterfinals.

Also defeating Iraq and Afghanistan in the group stages, Australia nonetheless fell to confederation heavyweights South Korea and Japan during the tournament; tempering celebrations for Australia’s next generation.

Further complicating Morgan and his staff’s upcoming schedule is that qualification for the 2020 edition of the AFC U16 Championship is also rapidly approaching; set to commence a month before the World Cup in September.

Drawn alongside Vietnam, Timor-Leste, Mongolia and Macau, Australia will need to top their group to guarantee their place at the 2020 tournament or be forced to sweat it out to see if they are one of the five best second-placed finishers.

Only players born after January 1, 2004 will be eligible to take part in those games.

2018 marks the third time that the Joeys have progressed to the World Cup through the AFC, however, they are still awaiting their first trip to the final of the continental tournament; having fallen Uzbekistan in the 2010 semi-finals and North Korea (albeit in a penalty shootout) in 2014.

On both those previous occasions the Joeys progressed through Asia, they advanced to the Round of 16 at the subsequent World Cup.

Australia’s best result at the U17 World Cup came back when the side progressed through Oceania back in 1999.

In that New Zealand hosted tournament, a side coached by Scheinflug and featuring the likes of Jade North, Scott McDonald and Scott McDonald advanced all the way to the final before losing to a Brazilian side featuring Adriano on penalties.

Noah Botic and the Joeys will take part in the U17 World Cup later this year
  • Junior Matildas

Led by former Canberra United Head Coach Rae Dower since 2017, the Junior Matildas will be seeking to qualify for their first ever U17 Women’s World Cup this September when they take part in the 2019 AFC U16 Women’s Championships in Thailand.

Beginning their qualification in September of 2018, the Junior Matildas easily topped their group containing Chinese Taipei, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan and Palestine – scoring 39 goals and conceding none – in the first stage of qualification.

Drawn in a group alongside Vietnam, Laos and Iran for the second stage of qualification in March of 2019, Australia once again easily progressed as one of the top two sides; winning all three of their games without shipping a goal in order to punch their tickets to Thailand.

Now in a group alongside the host nation, Japan and Bangladesh for the coming tournament, Dower’s side will need to reach the final to secure their place at next year’s World Cup as India is already guaranteed one of the three AFC places at the World Cup as the hosts.

Australia’s previous best performance at the AFC U16 Championship came at the 2009 edition, where a Robbie Hooker coached side featuring Steph Catley, Caitlin Foord, Alanna Kennedy and Sam Kerr topped a group featuring Japan, China and Chinese Taipei before going down to North Korea in the semi-finals and losing a rematch with Japan in the third-place playoff.