Ante Milicic’s 23-player squad will take to the field at the Patriot Candrabaga Stadium in Bekasi, Indonesia for the first game of the AFC U19 Championships with a clear mission.
The best and brightest of Australia’s young footballing talent must progress through the group stages of the AFC U19 Championship and go on to secure a semi-finals berth at the tournament to qualify for next year’s U20 World Cup in Poland; which would end a six-year absence from world football’s premier junior showcase.
Milicic, who juggles his responsibilities of serving as an assistant to Graham Arnold with the senior Socceroos side with his role as boss of the Young Socceroos, has included 17 players attached to A-League sides within his squad for the tournament, the six others all attached to European based clubs.
With the likes of SC Heerenveen’s John Iredale, Everton FC’s Con Ouzounidis, Ipswich Town’s Ben Folami and Ajax’s Seb Pasquali highlighting the foreign contingent and local standouts Nathaniel Atkinson, Ramy Najjarine and James Delianov (all of Melbourne City) and Western Sydney Wanderers’ Tass Mourdoukoutas (Who spoke exclusively to dailyfootballshow.com before the tournament) leading the domestic charge; the group sent to Indonesia looms as one of the most talented junior sides Australia has fielded in recent years.
The Young Socceroos last week concluded their preparations for their tilt at Asian glory by acclimatising to South-East Asian conditions with a training camp in Singapore, which included a 2-1 victory over the junior side of Johor Southern Tigers – Folami and Melbourne City’s Josh Cavallo on the scoresheet for Australia – and a 1-0 win over a select Singapore side – Adelaide United’s Apostolos Stamatelopoulos on the scoresheet in that contest.
However, despite the bevy of exciting talent on hand, the squad will nevertheless be missing two of its potential biggest impact players in Indonesia in the form of Celtic’s Daniel Arzani and PEC Zwolle’s Denis Genreau; who were both recently a part of Arnold’s squad for the Socceroos 4-0 win over Kuwait.
Dave Lewis of The World Game reported that Arazani had initially been earmarked by Milicic to appear at the tournament – which falls outside of FIFA recognised international breaks – but the move to bring the excitement-machine into the Young Socceroos setup was nixed by Celtic.
“You factor a lot of things in (into selection) and at the same time, the communication lines with Arnie are great and he brought a couple of these boys into camp last month,” Milicic said of the two Socceroos linked youngsters.
“There are two boys now that are in the Socceroos squad in (Daniel) Arzani and (Denis) Genreau that are eligible for this Young Socceroos squad, but they’re not going to be with us for the qualifiers, they’ll be with the Socceroos and that’s great.
“That’s what we want to see, we want to see players that are produced and playing for the Socceroos.
“Let’s not forget they have a major tournament in January as well with the Asian Cup so there’s always opportunity.”
Drawn in Group C, the Young Socceroos have been given a daunting challenge to even progress through to the knock-out changes of Indonesia 2019: Asian powerhouses South Korea, a dangerous Vietnam and a Jordan side on the upswing all standing between Milicic’s side and progression to the next round.
The Koreans are 12-time U19 champions of Asia – meaning they have a greater than 50% success rate when competing in the tournament – albeit with that record being highlighted by first round exits in the two previous Championships.
Spearheaded by FC Seoul spearhead Cho Young-wook, the junior Taegeuk Warriors went undefeated in qualifying for the Championships; scoring 22 times without conceding once in their four fixtures against Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
“Our team came here in order to get a ticket for the (FIFA U-20) World Cup next year and that’s the way we’ve been preparing,” South Korean Head Coach Chung Jung-yong said before the tournament.
“We will be doing our best in every single game in this tournament, and we also hope that through this competition we will develop and reach another level.”
Vietnam, coming off a first-ever appearance at an U20 World Cup in 2017, was also undefeated on their path to Indonesia: scoring eight times and only shipping a single goal in their wins over Macau, Taiwan and Laos.
Scoring twice during the qualifying campaign, midfielder Trương Tiến Anh – of Vietnamese side Viettel FC – shapes as the danger-man of the Vietnamese, who will be led by 50-year-old Head Coach Hoàng Anh Tuấn at the tournament.
Despite being perhaps the least credentialed of the Young Socceroos opponents in their group, Jordan proved that they were not to be underestimated when they advanced out of their qualifying group at the expense of traditional Asian powerhouses Iran.
Taking advantage of two Iranian draws, Jordan – who are coached by former Jordanian international Ahmed Abdel-Qader – used a 2-0 win over Palestine and a 2-1 defeat of Syria to advance to this month’s tournament.
The Young Socceroos will commence their AFC U19 Championships campaign tonight against South Korea, with kick-off set for 11:00 pm AEDT.
They will then follow with a clash with Vietnam at 8:00 pm on Monday, 22 October before ending their run of group games by meeting Jordan at 11:00 pm on Thursday, 25 October.