Subscribe to the news that matters to you
Australia’s best under-17 soccer players will be on the plane to Bahrain next year, with the side securing top position of its AFC U-17 Asian Cup qualifying group.
Taking to the pitch of Shepparton’s McEwen Reserve for the final time on Sunday afternoon the Joeys showed plenty of guts to down fellow qualifying hopeful China 3-1.
The result made it three wins from three games for the green and gold side, with automatic qualification for next year’s tournament worthy reward for effort.
“I think it’s a fantastic achievement from the players,” Australia coach Brad Maloney said after the game.
“They’ve worked tirelessly in this tournament, they’ve taken every task in their stride and I thought today was another very professional performance.”
It was a tense atmosphere for the encounter and all 1117 supporters in attendance were on the edge of their seat.
With the sun shining it was Australia that would break the deadlock early, with Adelaide United speedster Nestory Irankunda converting a penalty he earned to go 1-0 up seven minutes in.
While Australia controlled the majority of possession throughout the rest of the first half, missed chances would prove costly and a purple patch to China put it right back in the contest.
Minutes after Australia’s Max Hately missed a penalty, a He Kanghua corner kick resulted in China finding an equaliser, with prolific goal scorer Wang Yudong controlling the ball in the box to level the scores 25 minutes in.
The scores remained level as the teams returned to the sheds for the main break and when the second half began it was not long before Australia was on top.
In the 50th minute China’s Cui Taixu was shown a straight red card following a dangerous challenge on Australia’s Irankunda.
Now down to 10 men China could not rediscover its rhythm and a patient Australia would soon find its way through again.
It would take some Irankunda magic to break the deadlock in the 65th minute, with the breakout player of the tournament carving up the opposition defence.
Fed by a great Peter Antoniou cross, Irankunda beat his man in the box before finding the back of the net and wheeling away in celebration.
This lead would extend further five minutes later through Miguel Di Pizio and despite some late heorics from the Chinese, Australia was simply too strong.
“We knew that China would give us a tough game, but our boys were up for it, I still thought we dominated large patches of the match and that’s a reflection on the scoreline,” Maloney said.
“It’s really a great achievement for these players to not only top the group, but qualify for the Asian Cup.”
Chinese coach Yang Chen said he was satisfied with the performance of his side.
“They fought until the very last minute,” Chen said.
“I think our players performed well, especially in the first half.”
Arriving in Australia one month before the tournament to prepare, Chen said he was happy with how things had gone despite failing to finish on top of the group.
“In the first two games, even though we won them, we still had a lot of problems, but for this match it was a different game,” he said.
While the result puts Australia go through to next year’s AFC U-17 Asian Cup in Bahrain, China will face a nervous wait to see whether it will be named as one of the best second-placed teams to qualify.
Part of a rock solid Australian defence Andriano Lebib did what he needed to do on Sunday afternoon. The Perth Glory man helped break down plenty of opposition attacks and stood up when he needed to.
Australia 3 (Irankunda 7′ (p) 65′, Di Pizio 75′) d China 1 (Yudong 25′)
Match attendance: 1117
Total attendance for tournament: 3014
Player-of-the-Match: Nestory Irankunda
Daniel is a passionate sports fan and proud Tasmanian.
Delivered daily Monday to Friday
© McPherson Media Group 2021