Monday, April 06, 2009


Egypt Calling

Jan Versleijen's Young Socceroos have drawn a tough group in September's U-20 World Cup in Egypt. As well as perennial high-flyers Brazil, there are the Czechs, runners-up in the 2007 event, and CONCACAF loose cannon Costa Rica.

The youngsters' performance at this event will be interesting to watch, for a number of reasons. To start with, it will be an early barometer of whether the new national youth league is achieving its object, from a technical point of view; the majority of the players taking part have been plucked from the A-League youth squads, with a few European-based starlets such as Peter Cvetanovski and James Holland set to be added as the tournament nears.

Australia's recent record at youth events has been decidedly poor. The 2005 Young Socceroos failed to advance from a less-than-daunting opening round group, being embarrassingly outclassed by the Dutch hosts along the way. Many of these same players formed the core of the 2008 Olyroos who made such a dismal impression in China. Of course, Australia failed to qualify for the 2007 U-20 World Ange Postecoglou and Craig Foster remember all too well. The 2005 Joeys, too, were eliminated after their first two games in Peru.

I don't think, however, that the key problem has been the players being produced; rather, too little faith has been shown in the players of late, with the result that path-of-least-resistance football seems to be the order of the day at the big events. Versleijen and his charges did well to qualify in the sweltering heat of the Gulf; will they have the confidence to take the game to their opponents in Port Said?

One player who might be one to watch in Egypt is Manchester United's young Italian striker Federico Macheda, who scored a screamer of a goal to give United victory over Aston Villa yesterday. On seeing it, I was instantly reminded of another brilliant goal by a promising teenage player almost thirty years ago, a near mirror-image of Macheda's strike. Not that I would wish the succession of tragedies that marred Justin Fashanu's life and career on the young Macheda. Absit omen.

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