Australia’s journey to Tokyo 2020 is back on track after a come-from-behind 2-1 win over host nation Thailand at the AFC U23 Championships.
Going down a goal early on, a brace from Nicholas D’Agostino salvaged the contest for coach Graham Arnold’s side, who ran over the top of their opponents after a first half in which they were thoroughly outplayed.
“I think we showed great character as a team after going down 1-0,” Arnold said. “It (conceding) took the confidence out of the team for a good ten minutes or so, but I thought after that, especially second half, we played very well and should have won by more.”
The junior War Elephants had taken the lead in the 24th minute when, after seizing control of the game in the preceding ten minutes, a driven sequence of pass and move football down the left flank resulted in a Thitathorn Aksornsri shot that careened off the post and back into play.
Attacker Anon Amornlerdsak was then waiting to fire it back in on target - beating Australian keeper Tom Glover to give his side the lead.
A careless turnover by Tass Mourdoukoutas almost gifted the Thais a second in the 30th minute after his attempt at a dainty loft out from the back was intercepted by Supachai Jaided.
Spotting Glover off his line, the attacker attempted a lofted effort from close to the halfway line that, although it went over the bar, was far to close to finding the net for comfort for the Australians.
Mourdoukoutas error wasn’t an isolated event as Australia continued to be caught in possession as they looked to build out from the back in the aftermath of the goal
Football, though, is a cruel game, and for all their dominance the Thais found themselves going into the rooms level at halftime when, two minutes before the break, Reno Piscopo won the ball in the midfield and darted forward before picking out a run of D'Agostino.
Dashing onto the ball played through the Thai lines by his teammate, D’Agostino sharply dragged the ball back across his body to beat goalkeeper Korraphat Nareechan at the far post and level proceedings.
Sucker punched just before the break, the Thais were clearly tiring in the second half and the tide began to turn.
Played through after a clever decision to let the ball run by substitute Al Hassan Toure, Reno Piscopo had a chance to take the lead in the 74th minute when he advanced in on the left but, instead of launching a left-footed effort in on goal, his attempt to cut back onto his right enabled the defence to get back and deny him.
The Wellington Phoenix attacker, though, made amends just two minutes later when he deftly scooped a ball over two Thai defenders for Alex Gersbach to run onto and cut back to the top of the six-yard-box for D’Agostino.
Placed in a position where it would have been harder to miss than score, the Perth Glory attacker made no mistake as he fired his side ahead.
He then should have had a third in the 79th minute when he was found in open space in the penalty area by Piscopo, but his attempted shot hit nothing but air and allowed the ball to scoot through, bounce off his torso and collect his hand.
Further (butchered) chances followed for Arnold’s side, but they were not punished for their late profligacy in front of goal – eventually running out 2-1 winners.
“Obviously it was a tough game in front of the 22,000 fans that came out tonight,” D’Agostino said post-game.
“Thailand in their home country, it was always going to be a big game but especially going 1-0 down early, that was tough, but we knew that we had the fight and courage to come back and we showed a lot of that tonight and got the result and that is massive for us.”
“My job is to score goals and that is what I am here to do and that is what Graham [Arnold] has belief in me to do and it is a great feeling scoring for your country, there is no better feeling in the world.”