Qantas Young Socceroos top Group D

Qantas Young Socceroos top Group D and prepare for the quarter finals

The Qantas Young Socceroos have topped Group D at the AFC U-19 Championship after a gutsy nil-all draw with the Korea Republic tonight in Zibo, China.

Going into the match equal on points with their opponents, but holding a superior goal difference, the Qantas Young Socceroos knew that a draw or better would give them top position in the group.

With Rhyan Grant and Marc Warren unavailable through suspension, Qantas Young Socceroos Head Coach Jan Versleijen used the match as an opportunity to rotate his line-up giving Sam Gallagher, Jason Davidson, Eli Babalj, Tommy Oar, Dan Bowles, Steven Lustica and Dimitrios Petratos starting positions.

As predicted, the match involving two teams of similar strength was an arm-wrestle from the opening whistle.

The Korea Republic controlled the pace of the game early on and had a number of chances to score in the first half, but none that really threatened the Qantas Young Socceroos.

The second half saw the game open up and the Qantas Young Socceroos start to gain more control of the midfield.

The Qantas Young Socceroos best opportunity came midway through the second half when Dimitrios Petratos launched a long-range shot that beat the Korean goalkeeper, No Donggeon, but hit the left-hand post and bounced away from the goal.

Shortly afterwards the Koreans applied more pressure which ultimately required two great diving saves by the Qantas Young Socceroos goalkeeper Mark Birighitti to keep his goal intact.

Just before full-time, both teams had opportunities to take the result.

The Koreans had a free kick awarded to them on edge of box after a foul was committed by Dylan McGowan. The resulting shot went through the Qantas Young Socceroos wall and forced another diving save out of Birighitti.

Following that free kick, the Qantas Young Socceroos counter-attacked quickly, with Tommy Oar delivering a long range pass to Mathew Leckie whose shot was scrambled clear by the Korean defence.

After the match, Qantas Young Socceroos Head Coach Jan Versleijen was very content with the result and is now looking forward to the next match.

“Tonight we had to make changes due to suspension and some slight injuries, which gave an opportunity for some other squad members to play.

“Having the option to be able to use these players shows the depth that is available in this squad.

“From the start of the game we could see Korea had every intention to attack to try and win the game and finish top of the group.

“The first half we were under a lot of pressure and struggled to control the ball in the midfield.

“The second half we started to take control of the midfield and when Matthew Fletcher came into the game he gave us more options in the front half.

“We were also able to keep a clean sheet and this was helped significantly by some outstanding saves and work by our goalkeeper Mark Birighitti.

“As a result we have finished top of the group and that is what we wanted to achieve.

“Now we have a very difficult match coming on Monday against the UAE and hopefully we can reverse the result where they beat us in the semi-finals at the 2008 AFC U-19 Championship and therefore qualify for the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup,” concluded Versleijen.

In the other group match IR Iran defeated Yemen 2-0 to take third place in Group D. In Group C, Japan cemented their place at the top of the table with a 3-0 win over Jordan and the United Arab Emirates secured second position in the group after defeating Vietnam 4-0.

The Qantas Young Socceroos will now face Group C runners-up, the United Arab Emirates, on Monday in the quarter finals of the tournament. A win would not only give them a semi finals berth, but would also mean qualification for the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup which will be played in Colombia next July-August, as one of the top four teams from the AFC U-19 Championship.

The semi-finals of the AFC U-19 Championship will be held on Thursday 14 October, with the Final to be played on Sunday 17 October.