The Qantas Young Socceroos have qualified for the AFC U-22 Championship after finishing second in Group E of the qualifiers even though they suffered a heavy 5-0 loss to Japan in their final match of the tournament in Pekanbaru, Indonesia last night.
Needing at least a point to guarantee qualification, the loss to Japan meant that the Qantas Young Socceroos had to wait for the outcome of the Indonesia v Singapore match which was played later in the evening. Fortunately for the Australians, the host nation scored two second half goals to overtake Singapore and claim third place giving the Qantas Young Socceroos the valuable second spot and a berth at the inaugural AFC U-22 Championship.
Going into the match, Qantas Young Socceroos Head Coach Paul Okon was able to select team captain Terry Antonis, after he served a one-match suspension for a red card against Singapore, but was unable to use Ben Garrucio who had accrued two yellow cards previously in the tournament.
With fatigue obviously a factor, the Qantas Young Socceroos started slowly and Japan dominated possession making it difficult for the Australians to get out of their defensive half.
Japan opened the scoring in the 18th minute when Notsuda Gakuto successfully got his foot onto a cross inside the box.
Japan’s second came just after the half hour mark when Yamanaka headed in from a corner. Watari added Japan’s third in additional time of the first half to give his team a commanding lead going into the break
The second half was much the same with Japan holding possession and creating chances. Notsuda extended Japan’s lead to four in the 54th minute with a fine strike following an attacking run.
With a tumultuous task ahead to get a result out of the match, the Qantas Young Socceroos failed to surrender and clawed their way back into the game increasing their share possession and creating a couple of dangerous chances in the process.
Unfortunately, in the 75th minute Japanese substitute Hirota completed his team’s scoring with an easy tap in from inside the six-yard box to seal their victory.
Qantas Young Socceroos Head Coach Paul Okon conceded that the better team won on the day, but was proud of his team’s achievements throughout the tournament.
“We were beaten by a fitter and stronger Japanese team today,” said Okon.
“It was a tough match for our players being out of season competing with a Japanese team that are in the middle of the J-League season, this was evident from the start of the match by the difference in fitness.
“Coming to this tournament and playing 5 games was a great learning experience for our young squad and today was another part of that progression.
“I am very proud of the players performances to come here and play 5 hard matches in 10 days when we are in the middle of the off-season in Australia.
“We achieved our goal of qualifying for the AFC U-22 Championship and the team should be proud of this.
“This was also our first step in the preparation for the AFC U-19 Championships in November in UAE and we now look forward to the next tournament in Vietnam in September,” concluded Okon.
In the other Group E matches Timor Leste recorded their first win of the tournament with a 4-1 victory over Macau to claim fifth place.
The Qantas Young Socceroos will now return home to focus on their preparations for the AFC U-19 Championships 2012 which will be held in the UAE in November. They will compete at the ASEAN Football Federation preparatory tournament in Vietnam from 2-8 September.