Joeys friendly fight on World Cup road

by John Davidson on Aug 04, 2012

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Australia’s under-17 national team’s preparation for the crucial Asian championships in September and the chance to go to next year’s Youth World Cup will go up a notch in Saudi Arabia this week.

The Joeys are in Saudi Arabia for a friendly tournament where they will play the hosts, Morocco and China over a five-day period. This tournament is part of the build-up for the AFC U-16 Championships in Iran next month, which serve as the qualifiers for the 2013 U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. The tournament follows a recent competition in Laos where the Joeys had two wins, a loss and a draw.

“It’s a big of a step up from Laos,” Joeys head coach Alistair Edwards says.
“It’s perfect timing for us. We did well in Laos. It’s good to playing a step up again. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Edwards is taking a 22-man squad to Saudi Arabia, which has been boosted by the inclusion of six overseas-based players. In Laos the Joeys drew with Japan 1-1, beat the hosts 3-2, defeated Thailand 4-2 and then lost in the final to Japan 3-1.

Edwards describes our number one rival Japan as “the benchmark of Asian football”, but says the Joeys proved to be a match for them.

“The first game [against Japan] we should have won,” Edwards says. “The last game we had our best performance, we had more possession. Japan were good, but bloody oath we were a match for them. We’ve got learn to counter the counter better.”

Edwards heads to Saudi Arabia with a stronger squad than was at his disposal in Laos. This includes the likes of Middlesborough’s Connor O’Neill, Burnley’s Kevin Ly, Southampton’s George Mells, Blackburn’s Hyuga Tanner and West Ham pair Ross Millard and Taylor Tombides. Taylor is the younger brother of former Joey Dylan Tombides, who starred for Australia at the 2011 U-17 World Cup.

This tournament will be good experience for the Asian championships in Iran in September, as the Joeys have to adjust to the difficult Middle East conditions and will have three good matches against quality opposition that pose different problems.

For the Asian U-16 Championships in Iran the Joeys have been grouped with Iraq, Oman and Thailand. The top two teams from each group progress to the quarter-finals, and the winner of those go onto the semi-finals and all four semi-finalists qualify for the 2013 U-17 World Cup. This World Cup is a vital component in the development of our next wave of football stars.

Edwards acknowledges the need to get results in the Championships in Iran, but says his team is heading to Saudi Arabia to further development and impose its style of play on its opponents. It is the unique junior football quandary – the players need more games to develop, and the only way to get more games is to get results.

However, Edwards is adamant that this young Aussie team is on the right track and doing it by playing the right kind of football, keeping possession and playing out from the back.

Having seem them train recently in the flesh at Blacktown Olympic Park, under the watchful gaze of technical director Han Berger, I can say the Joeys are not short of talent, desire or ambition. They seem a technically astute bunch eager to learn and succeed. Considering the current debate around Australia’s football development structures, there will no shortage of eyes keenly watching their progression over the next two months.

“There’s definitely a development focus, to get them ready for the under-20s [the Young Socceroos],” he says.

“[But] the more games we play together, there’s a better chance for the team and players to get better. We’ll focus on the way we play. Then the results will come. It’s all building for Iran. We have to learn how to win the right way. Sustain possession-based football.”