The Young Socceroos secured their first piece of silverware of the Gary van Egmond era on Monday evening; avenging an earlier group-stage loss to defeat defending AFF U18 Championship holders Malaysia 1-0 and secure the 2019 Championship.
It was Adelaide United attacker Lachlan Brook who proved the difference between the two sides when the 18-year-old hammered an effort past substitute goalkeeper Firdaus Irman Mohd Fadhil in the 80th minute to secure the trophy for the Australians.
The goal came towards the end of a second stanza in which Australia’s youth was forced to hold on for dear life as the side of former Socceroo Brad Maloney piled on the pressure in their quest for back-to-back Championships.
The Young Socceroos thoughts will now turn to this November when they will travel to Taiwan to play the host nation, Macau and Laos in AFC U19 Championship qualifying.
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.
Van Egmond’s side has the best of it in the early stages of the final, Marco Tilio flashing the group’s potential in the tenth minute when he spun around a challenge and whipped a ball into the area only for there to be a dearth of players in an Australia shirt there to meet it.
A minute later, however, there was a man waiting to meet the Sydney FC attacker’s low, left-footed dagger into the area as Central Coast Mariner Dylan Ruiz-Diaz broke containment and met the ball sliced behind the defence in stride.
Unfortunately for the Australian striker, his resulting effort was straight at Malaysian goalkeeper Sikh Izhan Nazrel bin Sikh Azman.
They were the two best chances of an opening 15 minute in which Australia had almost complete control of the run of play; the Malaysians forced to look to hit their foes on the counter in their rare forays forward.
On 19 minutes it was the turn of Ruiz-Diaz to turn attempted provider for Tilio when the latter cut inside and played a clever one-two with the former to bypass the defensive line and breakthrough on goal. It was only a last-second sliding challenge from a furiously backtracking defender that prevented Tilio from getting a shot off.
That chance, however, also marked the end of Australia’s opening period of dominance, as the Malaysian side that had defeated Australia 3-0 during group play of the Championships – despite losing Muhammed Azam Azmi Murad to an injury in the 31st minute – awakened from their slumber and forcing their way back into the contest.
Nonetheless, the Australian defence was able to meet the challenge thrown down by the young Harimau Malaya attacks; clamping down on moves forward and largely relegating goalkeeper Kai Calderbank-Park to the task of cleaning up long balls or speculative crosses into the area.
A free-kick won by Tilio in the 48th minute in a dangerous, central position presented the Young Socceroos with a golden chance to take the lead in the opening stages of the second half – one that seemingly appeared to have been taken when Ruiz-Diaz curled a gorgeous looking free-kick towards the goal.
Sikh Azman, though, had other ideas.
Rapidly getting across his goal to produce a superb diving effort to tip the ball around the post and maintain the 0-0 score
Malaysia looked to immediately respond when captain Muhammed Mukhairi Ajmal Mahadi whipped in a high cross in the 54th minute that appeared threatening, but Australia was able to hold strong.
Five minutes later, however, Australia could do nothing as Malaysia came within inches of taking the lead when, after a sustained period of pressure, Luqman Hakim Shamsudin fed the ball to Muhammed Firdaus Kaironnisam on the left.
Cutting inside, Kaironnisam had enough time to get his head up and whip a wicked-looking curling effort in on goal and successfully loop the ball over Calderbank-Park’s head but, agonisingly, was just unable to get it to dip low enough to sneak under the crossbar.
Malaysia was well and truly gaining the ascendency; a rapid move in transition down the right flank producing a cutback for a waiting Ajmal Mahadi that the newly introduced Jarrod Carluccio had to hurl himself in the way of.
Two minutes later the Malaysian’s came even closer to taking the lead when Ajmal Mahadi played Hakim Shamsudin into space down the right. Receiving the ball, the winger proceeded to cut inside and launch a venomous shot in on goal that Burnley prospect Calderbank-Park was only able to just deflect away.
Buffeted by the Malaysian onslaught, the Australian’s needed a circuit-breaker, and they should have had one in the 75th minute.
Sliding the ball in behind the Malaysian defence as Australia launched a rare second-half foray forward, second-half substitute Bradley Chick perfectly picked out the run of Brook and sprung the Adelaide United prospect in on goal.
One-on-one with Sikh Azman, Brook looked odds on to score but could only find the side netting with his effort.
Nonetheless, in a cruel twist of fate for the Malaysians, Sikh Azman – who had required treatment numerous times throughout the contest – suffered an injury as he got down to cover the net and was carried off on a stretcher.
Ice cold and called into action, backup Mohd Fadhil had little chance just minutes later when Brook, gifted a second chance after being played through by Louis D’Arrigo, hammered an effort inside the near post to give Australia the lead.
A 95th-minute free-kick won on the right-hand edge of the area by Hakim Shamsudin gave Malaysia hope, but Ajmal Mahadi’s resulting curling effort was straight at Calderbank-Park and headed away.