A spirited second half fightback from ten-man Sydney FC wasn’t enough to deny Malaysia top spot in Group B of the Thanhnien Newspaper Cup in Vietnam.
The Sky Blues were beaten 4-2 but came back from 3-0 down to almost snatch a point, after defender Roberto Speranza was sent off just before half time.
Head Coach Brian Dene made six changes to the starting line-up following the 2-1 win over Laos two days earlier, fielding 3 sixteen year olds, two 15 year olds and a 14 year old. Youngsters Bouzanis, Stewart, Allport, Kalik, Jenner and Nicolis all came in giving the team an average age of 17 years old.
It was the young team who fashioned the first chance with striker Alec Urosevski forcing a save from the Malaysian keeper after being set free in the 2nd minute.
The good start didn’t last however with Malaysia going ahead on 6 minutes. Syahrul Azwari broke free on the right wing and with time and space was able to drill a low shot beyond the left hand of goalkeeper Anthony Bouzanis.
Malaysia’s wing man was looking extremely dangerous and with 19 minutes gone he increased their lead, dribbling past two Sydney defenders inside the box and slotting past Bouzanis from close range.
The Sky Blues were struggling to find any rhythm and had Bouzanis to thank for preventing another goal. A long ball sent Malaysia’s captain Ambumamee clear but the keeper raced quickly to the edge of his box to block the striker’s shot.
Sydney’s task got even harder just before half time when centre half Roberto Speranza was sent off for a second bookable offence. After bringing down a Malaysian attacker to stop a break away moments earlier, the defender seemed to misjudge a challenge close to the Sydney FC box and the referee had no hesitation in pulling out a second yellow card, leaving the Sky Blues with a mountain to climb in the second half.
The sending off forced Head coach Brian Dene into a half time reshuffle with centre half Aaron Calver coming on to replace midfielder Anthony Kalik and Boden Allport making way for Tom Slater on the left wing.
Bouzanis made another good save to keep Sydney in the game early in the second half, palming a dangerous shot around the post.
The save almost paid dividends shortly after when Christopher Naumoff’s run and shot from distance narrowly went wide of the post.
It was a miss which proved vital when Sydney went further behind with just under a quarter of the game to play. Malaysia captain Ambumamee took a shot from distance which Bouzanis dived to parry but Hazwan was first to the rebound and fired home from close range to make it 3-0.
The young Sydney team could have given up but showed character to produce a fightback and came close to snatching a result.
With ten minutes remaining the dangerous Naumoff picked up the ball on the edge of the Malaysia box after some good build up play from Sydney. The 17 year old then flashed a shot across the keeper and into the bottom corner of the net to record his second goal in two games.
It was the boost Sydney needed and when they won a free-kick on the edge of the box a minute later captain Peter Triantis stepped up to curl home, from a similar position and style as Sydney FC counterpart Alessandro Del Piero did four days earlier.
The fairytale wasn’t to be however and the push for the equaliser left ten man Sydney vunerable at the back. Five minutes from time Irfan Fazail found himself free in the box to lift a shot over Bouzanis and creep into the net.
“We had a very young side out tonight,” said Head Coach Brian Dene. “We didn’t take our early chances and let Malaysia into the game too easily.
“I’m pleased with the spirit and the way we came back in the second half though and we’ll be a much different proposition in the semi-final on Friday,” he concluded.
The result means Sydney FC finish second in the group and will face tournament hosts Vietnam in front of an expected large crowd the semi-final.
Malaysia u21’s 4 (Azwari Ibrahim 2, Hazwan, Fazail) d. Sydney FC 2 (Naumoff, Triantis)
Referee: Mongkolchai Pechsri (THA)
Sydney FC: 20. Anthony Bouzanis (gk) 4. Roberto Speranza, 5. Matthew Stewart, 6. Anthony Kalik, (3. Aaron Calver) 8. Peter Triantis (c), 11. Christopher Naumoff, 14. Luke Jenner , 15.Luke Clifford, 16 Alec Urosevski (7. Joshua MacDonald), 18. Zackary Nicolis, 21. Boden Allport (10. Tom Slater).
Subs not used: 1. Ryan Norval , 2. Keifer Dotti, 17. Rino Zenari, 19. Theo Kofinas.