My Socceroos debut – Paul Okon

Paul Okon takes us through his debut for the Socceroos



Date: 6 February 1991 Venue: Parramatta Stadium Score: Australia 0-2 Czechoslovakia Scorers: Karel Kula -59, Alois Grussmann ‘89 Crowd: 8221

Australian line-up: Robert Zabica, Ned Zelic (Tony Vidmar 61), Andrew Bernal, Milan Ivanovic, Alex Tobin, Alan Davidson (Warren Spink 65), Paul Wade, Branko Milosevic, Aurelio Vidmar (Andrew Zinni 60), David Lowe (Paul Okon 72), Alistair Edwards

MOST players use youth World Cups and Olympic Games as platforms for senior football, but for Paul Okon it was the other way round.

The libero drew the attention of national team selectors as soon as he broke into Marconi-s side, with his sublime vision and distribution and ability to glide effortlessly past players.

So before he went on to star for Australia at the 1991 World Youth Cup and the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, there was a Socceroos call up for Okon in February 1991 - at the tender age of 18.

"It was a rainy evening, really wet and I had already been in the squad a few times when I was 17, but those games were against club sides,-- recalls Okon.

"I knew that I was going to get an opportunity that night against Czechoslovakia.

"I came on in the second half (for former Marconi teammate David Lowe). It was the same game that Tony Vidmar made his debut.

"I remember the ball came out to me just outside the box, I made a 70m run, dribbled past three or four players and by the time I got to the other end I ended up giving a bad pass.

"It took everything out of me. I felt like I was going to have a heart attack, and I didn-t really do much for the rest of the game.

"But I put that down to nerves and being too eager.--

Czechoslovakia, as they were known back then, prevailed 2-0 even without European stars Tomas Skuhravy and Lubomir Moravcik.

It was nonetheless a great experience for Okon, who went on to star at the World Youth Cup in Portugal later that year, before signing for Belgian giants Club Brugge.

Okon, who later captained the Soccceroos and finished with 29 caps, paid tribute to Thomson-s willingness to blood youth.

"Of course it helped me for the World Youth Cup and it was a massive confidence boost before the Olympic Games as well,-- he says.

"Eddie Thomson wasn-t one to hold young players back. If you were good enough you were old enough.

"He had me in the squad already in the first few games and I got my first national team tracksuit at 17, just after I made my debut at Marconi, so he was always pushing the kids.--

Teenage Socceroos debutants are more of a rarity compared with the ‘90s when the likes of Okon, Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton were all blooded with outstanding success.

Okon, who will be assistant coach of new A-League outfit Gold Coast next season, says times have changed for a reason.

"Now there is a lot more players to choose from. Before, there weren-t that many so young players in the national team got their opportunity,-- Okon says.