The Subway Young Socceroos suffered a heartbreaking 5-4 quarter final defeat on penalties against Uzbekistan in the AFC U-20 Asian Cup Uzbekistan 2023™ on Sunday morning (AEDT).
Gabriel Popovic's second-half finish was swiftly cancelled out by Abdirakhmatov Zafarmurod in the pulsating fixture as the match ended 1-1 after full-time. Another 30 minutes was unable to separate the two teams leading to the dreaded penalty shootout.
Nectarios Triantis, Archie Goodwin, Joshua Rawlins and Alex Badolato all expertly converted their penalties with Uzbekistan replying at every stage.
However, Adrian Segecic, who was one of Australia's players of the tournament, unluckily saw his effort cannon off the crossbar which enabled Umarali Rahmonaliev to step up and slot the winning spot-kick, sparking wild scenes in front of more than 33,000 spectators at the Milliy Stadium.
Australia's last eight elimination also means they miss out on qualifying for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Indonesia 2023™ held in May.
Trevor Morgan made just the solitary change from the side that trounced Qatar 9-1 with Jed Drew replacing Raphael Rodrigues on the wing.
It was a lively start to the game as the hosts had the first chance of the match with Abdukodir Khusanov heading inches over the bar from a corner that took a deflection.
The helter-skelter nature of the contest continued in the opening stages with no side able to slow the tempo and have a period of sustained possession.
Australia fashioned two great half opportunities with Alessandro Lopane and Popovic both unable to capitalise on crosses from the left, while Jed Drew had the best look at the Uzbekistan goalkeeper.
The 19-year-old tried to catch out Otabek Boymurodov at his near post from a speculative free-kick which hit the side-netting.
But with the White Wolves yet to concede this tournament and boasting a stingy defence finding clear openings was always going to be difficult.
Both sides entered the interval locked at 0-0 and it was the home side that had all the momentum to begin the second stanza.
Australia had to absorb relentless spells of pressure, forced to defend deep in their box and make several crucial blocks and interventions.
Esanov Sherzod unleashed a low drive which Jack Warshawsky was equal to.
The Subway Young Socceroos gradually got back into the match, venturing forward and almost scored when Popovic's point-blank attempt was saved by the 'keeper on 59 minutes.
Segecic and Lopane both tried long-range strikes in quick succession before Morgan introduced fresh legs in the form of Aidan Simmons and Alex Badolato in the 61st minute.
Time seemed to stand still as the capacity crowd held its collective breath when Abbosbek Fayzullaev was played through sensationally by Pulatkhuja Kholdorkhonov and only had the goalkeeper to beat but fired wide of the post.
The huge miss would prove costly as Popovic, six minutes later, showed poacher's instincts to tap home from the corner after timing his run to remain onside for his second goal of the tournament.
However, the common phrase 'a team is most vulnerable after scoring' manifested itself with Uzbekistan responding instantly. Abdirakhmatov ran into the box untracked and dispatched a low shot which clipped the inside of the upright to restore parity.
Both sides had chances to win the match, with Uzbekistan coming the closest when a header hit the crossbar, though neither team could be separated over the 90 minutes.
The dramatic action continued into the first-half of extra-time with the hosts mustering two quick-fire opportunities.
Segecic sweetly struck a half-volley from distance which fizzed agonisingly wide of the post in the 108th minute, however it remained all square after 120 minutes and a penalty shootout followed.
"I feel bitterly disappointed for us, our players gave everything," Head Coach Trevor Morgan said in his post-match Press Conference.
"We had a lot of belief in the squad and played in a way that we could have won the match and progressed to the World Cup."
Uzbekistan U-20: 1 (5) (Abdirakhmatov 79')
Australia U-20: 1 (4) (Popovic 77')
Tournament: AFC Asian Cup Uzbekistan 2023 - Quarter Final
Date: Saturday, 11 March (local), Sunday, 12 March (AEDT)
Venue: Milliy Stadium, Tashkent
Kick-off: 7:00pm (Local) and 1:00am AEDT
Broadcast: Live and Free on 10 Play
Referee: Ammar Ebrahim Hasan Mahfoodh (BHR)
Assistant Referees: Faisal Alawi Sayed (BHR), Nasser Salim Ambusaidi (OMA)
Fourth Official: Qasim Matar Al-Hatmi (OMA)
Australia U-20 XI: 1. Jack Warshawsky (GK), 2. Joshua Rawlins (C), 3. Nectarios Triantis, 4. Chris Donnell (16. Jake Girdwood-Reich 112'), 7. Bernardo (17 Aidan Simmons 61', 22. Jing Reec 100'), 8. Alessandro Lopane (19. Archie Goodwin 90+2'), 9. Gabriel Popovic (11. Raphael Rodrigues 112'), 10. Adrian Segecic, 13. Panashe Madanha, 15. Joseph Forde, 21. Jed Drew (20. Alex Badolato 61')
Substitutes not used: 5. Matthew Dench, 6. Rhys Bozinovski, 12. James Nieuwenhuizen (GK), 14. Kaelan Majekodunmi, 18. Alexander Robinson (GK), 23. Jonny Yull
Yellow Card: Triantis 45+1', Badolato 90+3'