2020 is set to be a bumper year for Australia's junior sides, with the U23, U19 and U17 sides all set to compete in - at the very least - continental action. A look at what's ahead, plus a recap of the penultimate Y-League round of 2019 ahead.
Though it must be stressed that it remains a very small sample size, the opening months of the 2019/20 A-League season have seen a promising increase in the number of opportunities afforded to young players.
Youngsters such as Louis D’Arrigo, Al Hassan Toure, Angus Thurgate, Samuel Silvera and Connor Metcalfe have all set tongues wagging as they begin to flex their muscles on the national stage and there are several other youngsters knocking on the door.
While these encouraging starts being capitalised on and extended to other younger players remains a point of conjecture – especially with the January transfer window about to open and clubs potentially looking to reinforce with veteran players – playing time being afforded to young Australian players is always a welcome sign.
As the world enters 2020, these players will be looking to not only establish themselves in clubland, but also within Australia’s national team set up in order to start the journey towards pulling on a precious, and elusive, Socceroos jersey.
Thanks to the biennial nature of youth development, all three of Australia’s major junior international teams – the Olyroos (U23s), Young Socceroos (U19s) and Joeys (U17s) – will have major continental competitions in the coming 12 months.
On January 8, the Olyroos will head to Thailand to take part in the AFC U23 Championships with a place at July’s Tokyo Olympics on the line.
Drawn in a group with the host nation, Iraq and Bahrain; Head Coach Graham Arnold’s side will have to finish at least third at the tournament to guarantee themselves a place at the Games of the XXXII Olympiad. Should Olympic hosts Japan reach the semi-finals, however, a place in the final four would also be enough.
Of their previous three attempts, the Olyroos best performance at the AFC U23 Championship came in Oman in 2013, when they reached the quarterfinals.
Any attempts to improve that performance in 2020, though, will have to be conducted without the services of Riley McGree, Lachlan Wales, Nathaniel Atkinson and Brandon Wilson after they were suspended for unprofessional conduct in November. The latter three, should Australia qualify, will also miss the Olympics.
The Young Socceroos, after topping a qualifying group featuring Laos, Chinese Taipei and Macau, will jet off Uzbekistan in October for the AFC U19 Championship.
Four nations will punch a ticket for the 2021 U20 World Cup at the tournament, joining host-nation Indonesia at the junior showcase.
Looking to back up the accomplishments of the cohort that went before them, a new generation of Joeys will get their first taste of major tournament football in September at the 2020 AFC U16 Championship in Bahrain.
Four of the 16 nations competing will book their places at the 2021 U17 World Cup in Peru at the tournament.
The Y-League Wrap: Round Seven
Central Coast Mariners 2-0 Canberra United
The Mariners strong 2019/20 Y-League campaign continued in the first game of the round, recording a comfortable win over Canberra to keep pace with Sydney FC atop Conference B.
After his side dominated the opening to proceedings at Pluim Park, Harry McCarthy put the hosts ahead in the 20th minute when he met at a corner drilled into the near post and got enough contact on it to prod it past Canberra keeper Sam Brown.
With stifling heat bearing down on the players – the contest’s kick-off time had been moved forward from 10:30 to 9 am in order to beat the heat – Jordan Smylie and Mathew Hatch had further chances to extend the Mariners lead, while Nikola Ujdur had the best of the early going for the visitors.
Eventually, though, it was the Mariners that made the all-important breakthrough when newly introduced substitute Kyle Johnson, with one of his first touches of the game, curled in an effort from the edge of the penalty area to secure the win.