Despite a furious finish, Australia’s U17 World Cup campaign got off to a disappointing start on Sunday after a 2-1 defeat to Ecuador.
Entering into Brazil 2019 as one of the most successful nations in the tournament’s 34-year history, Head Coach Trevor Morgan and his squad had made no secret of the ambitions that they held, espousing the same confident tone that has become the trademark of Australian sides in recent times.
“You have to go there with the mentality that you want to win,” Morgan said pre-tournament
“For us, we believe we will progress from our group and see what challenges meet us along the way.”
Unfortunately for Morgan’s side, any hopes they held of a strong start were dashed after just four minutes when a corner from the left was headed clear by Jordan Courtney-Perkins and straight into the path of Ecuadorian Erick Pluas.
The midfielder promptly hammered in a long-range shot that careened off defender Izaack Powel – completely wrongfooting goalkeeper Adam Pavlesic – and giving the South Americans the lead.
Five minutes later further deflection-aided pain was heaped upon the Australians when a perfectly weighted ball from Pluas was laced through the Australian lines to pick out the run from Pedro Vite, with the Independiente del Valle prospect promptly cutting inside and sliding in a cross that defender Anton Milnaric inadvertently turned into his own goal in an effort to clear.
Finishing with a wet sail, Australian spearhead Noah Botic was able to find the back of the net in the 90th minute when the Hoffenheim striker seized upon a cut-back and hammered a shot into the top of the net to make it 2-1 and give some sign of hope but, ultimately, it proved too little too late.
In isolation, the two goals scored by the Ecuadorians could have been chalked off as moments of misfortune – the universe twice directing the ball into the back of the net from deflections that could have sent it anywhere.
But when examined in the greater context of the opening 75 minutes, they were just rewards for an Ecuadorian side that demonstrated an incisiveness and attacking intent – particularly down the left flank – that the Australians were unable to match.
Despite the Joeys having 55% of the ball compared to Ecuador’s 45% and possessing a better passing accuracy, La Tri had nine shots to three across the opening 45 minutes – putting three of them on target compared to Australia’s zero.
Though Australia continued to have more of the ball and did shift their phases of possession slightly higher in the second half, the song remained depressingly the same; a lack of end product dashing any hopes of a comeback.
Indeed, it would take until the 69th minute for the Australians to have a shot on target and their final late flourish arrived too late to overcome the Ecuadorian’s lead.
Australia’s first real chance of the game came in the 15th minute of play when a ball chipped in by captain Ryan Teague found Tristan Hammond and allowed the Sporting Lisbon player to get off a shot that was blocked by Piero Hincapie.
Ecuador had a further two chances to make it 3-0 just past the half an hour mark when Hanssel Delgado was unable to get a headed effort from a corner on target in the 32nd minute and Johan Mina – whose talent was clearly evident throughout the game – put a shot straight at Pavlesic in the 34th.
Continuing a theme from the first half, late chances to Hammond and Birkan Kirdar as Australia staged a late first-half charge were blocked away by Ecuadorian defenders.
Australia went close in the 69th minute when a nice ball into the area found its way to a pack of players including Botic and Cameron Peupion. Almost disastrously for the Ecuadorians, Marco Angulo’s challenge to poke the ball away from Botic then went right to Peupion; the Sydney FC youngster forcing a save from Joan Lopez.
Mina and Adrian Mejia both had chances to ice the game in the final 10 minutes of the game when they went close and, momentarily, the Australians had their hopes raised when Botic netted as part of a frantic, desperate and brave late comeback attempt but, ultimately, it wasn’t to be.
Australia will now look ahead to a fixture against Hungary on Wednesday morning and a potentially huge clash against powerhouses Nigeria next Saturday. Earlier in the day, the Golden Eaglets staged a furious, final 10-minute comeback to bounce back from 2-1 down to win 4-2 over the Magyars.
With the top two sides from each group being joined by the four best third-placed finishers from the six groups, the Joeys still have everything to play for in the coming week.