THE Olyroos’ hopes of reaching the Asian U23 Championship knockout phase will hinge on their final group game after Sunday night’s narrow loss to Vietnam.
Australia dominated possession but struggled to penetrate the tenacious, deep-lying Vietnamese who prevailed via a late deflected goal at Kunshan Stadium in China.
Australia failed to clear their lines and dangerous Vietnamese attacker Nguyen Quang Hai pounced to strike home, via a big deflection off Aleksandar Susnjar.
Olyroos made eight changes from their 3-1 win over Syria three days earlier, with keeper Izzo, stopper Susnjar and midfielder Stefan Mauk the only players to retain their first XI spots.
Melbourne City’s Ruon Tongyik started in defence, while Socceroos squad members Alex Gersbach, Ajdin Hrustic and Riley McGree all got starts.
Vietnam’s improved skill level – they are one of the nations who’ve invested tens of millions in youth programs in recent years – and street smarts were on show.
Doing their homework on the Olyroos, Vietnam sat deep, conceded possession and remained compact before hitting on the counter and kept Izzo, who played very high, on his ties by unleashing some audacious but accurate long-range attempts.
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Australia’s best first half chance came via a Hrustic free-kick that was tipped away by the Vietnam keeper, but front three Trent Buhagiar, Joe Champness and Deni Juric rarely threatened as the Olyroos struggled to penetrate.
The Olyroos resumed the second half with renewed vigour as Champness almost bundled Alex Gersbach’s cross over the line, before George Blackwood’s introduction created openings.
Confident after his game one brace Blackwood caused havoc with his aerial prowess, having a goal ruled out for offside before striking the bar after a clever floated cross from another sub Milislav Popovic.
Captain Mauk and Buhagiar both had glorious chances to equalise in the dying stages but both failed to connect, triggering jubilant celebrations among the Vietnamese contingent after their opening game loss to South Korea.
Australia must now beat South Korea in Wednesday’s final Group D game or draw and rely on a favourable result in the other match between Vietnam and Syria.
VIETNAM 1 (Nguyen Quang Hai 72)
Asian U23 Championships, CHINA
Group D match
Kunshan Stadium, Kunshan
Olyroos XI (4-3-3): Izzo; Baccus, Tongyik, Susnjar, Gersbach; McGree, Mauk, Hrustic (De Silva 62); Buhagiar, Champness (Popovic 73), Juric (Blackwood 62).