The Australian U23 Men’s National Team got their 2018 AFC U23 Championship campaign off to a solid start on Thursday, defeating Syria U23 3-1 in Kunshan, China.
A brace to Adelaide United attacker George Blackwood combined with a first half header from Melbourne City FC flyer Bruce Kamau did the damage for Ante Milicic’s men as Australia secured three crucial Group D points from their first fixture of the 16-team continental Championship.
Australia scored twice in the first half in chilly Kunshan, where the temperature at kick-off hovered just above five degrees Celsius.
Reds striker Blackwood netted the game’s opener when he superbly guided Daniel De Silva’s precise pass following Thomas Deng’s brilliant through-ball into the back of the net in the eighth minute of play.
Blackwood had a chance to claim his brace less than five minutes later as Australia crafted a similar chance, this time after a great combination between Newcastle Jet Nicholas Cowburn and Central Coast Mariners creative De Silva.
Soon after Blackwood’s second opportunity his Hyundai A-League teammate Paul Izzo was called upon to keep Australia’s advantage in check. An accurate cross into the box was met by Syrian attacker Mohamad Rafat Muhtadi, however Izzo brilliantly denied the Al Ittihad Aleppo attacker.
Australia dominated possession for large parts of the first 45 and duly doubled their lead shortly before the half time break. A fluid move from defence to attack involving Cowburn, Brandon Wilson, Stefan Mauk, De Silva, and Milislav Popovic ended with Kamau nodding Popovic’s perfect pass beyond Syrian custodian Khaled Ibrahim.
Milicic made one change to his line-up for the start of the second stanza as Mariners attacker Trent Buhagiar replaced Kamau. The Umina Eagles junior had an early chance in the second half to make it 3-0 to Australia, however his strike after Mauk’s pass was well saved by Ibrahim.
In the 54th minute the Qasioun Eagles reduced the deficit in the duel. A crisp cross into the area was inadvertently directed into Australia’s goal by Deng, who aside from this blemish produced a polished performance alongside Aleksandar Susnjar in the heart of Australia’s defence.
And while Izzo was forced into action twice as the clock wound down, ultimately Blackwood’s second goal of the encounter – which he scored in the 77th minute following strong work down the right by Buhagiar – ensured that Australia commenced their assault on the 2018 AFC U23 Championship in winning fashion.
Australia will take on Vietnam in their second Group D match on Sunday (14 January), before playing one of the tournament favourites, Korea Republic, next Wednesday (17 January).
A top two finish in Group D will be required for Australia to advance to the Quarter Finals on the competition.
Australia’s matches against Vietnam and Korea Republic will both be broadcast LIVE and EXCLUSIVE on FOX SPORTS.
Australia’s results at the 2018 AFC U23 Championship will impact the team’s seeding for the 2020 AFC U23 Championship, which will double as the qualification tournament for the 2020 Summer Olympics to be held in Tokyo, Japan.
Australia U23 3 (Blackwood 8’, 77’, Kamau 43’)
Syria U23 1 (Deng (OG) 54’)
Venue: Kunshan Stadium, China
Referee: Khamis Al-Marri (Qatar)
Australia U23: 1. Paul IZZO (Gk), 2. Nicholas COWBURN, 5. Aleksandar SUSNJAR, 8. Stefan MAUK (C), 9. George BLACKWOOD, 11. Bruce KAMAU (7. Trent BUHAGIAR 46’), 13. Milislav POPOVIC (10. Ajdin HRUSTIC 57’), 17. Brandon WILSON, 20. Thomas DENG, 22. Daniel DE SILVA, 23. Benjamin GARUCCIO
Substitutes not used: 3. Alexander GERSBACH, 4. Jonathan ASPROPOTAMITIS, 6. Aiden O’NEILL, 12. Thomas GLOVER (Gk), 14. Riley MCGREE, 15. Keanu BACCUS, 16. Joseph CHAMPNESS, 18. Danijel NIZIC (Gk), 19. Deni JURIC, 21. Ruon TONGYIK
Yellow cards: Hrustic
Red cards: Nil
Vietnam U23 v Australia U23
Sunday 14 January 2018
Kunshan Stadium, Kunshan
Kick-off: 4pm (local); 7pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: Full match LIVE and EXCLUSIVE on FOX SPORTS 506
Korea Republic U23 v Australia U23
Wednesday 17 January 2018
Kunshan Stadium, Kunshan
Kick-off: 7.30pm (local); 10.30pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: Full match LIVE and EXCLUSIVE on FOX SPORTS 501