Victorian members of the Young Socceroos with their medals. Left to right: Mark Silic, Robert Spasevski, Robert Stojcevski, Kevin Muscat, Kris Trajanovski, Lorenz Kindtner. Photo: Les Shorrock. Les Shorrock collection, Deakin University Library.
Young Socceroos in Portugal 1991
(Article published in Goal Weekly, 8 August 2011, p. 9.)
In 2011 the Young Socceroos failed to pull off a miracle and beat Spain to qualify for the knock-out stages of the World Youth Cup in Colombia. In 1991 their predecessors reached the play-off for third place in Portugal, having held the host nation to a single goal in a pulsating semi-final in front of 112,538 fans in the Estadio de Luz in Lisbon. That was Portugal’s ‘golden generation’ which included Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Joao Pinto and Jorge Costa and was coached by Carlos Queiros.
Les Scheinflug took the young Socceroos to Fiji in September 1990 for an Oceania qualifying tournament involving five countries who played a round robin. The first match on 1st September was with Vanuatu and the Australians won by six goals to nil. Kris Trajanovski and David Seal each had two and Paul Okon and Steve Corica got the others. Tahiti came next and this time the Young Socceroos scored seven without reply. Matthew Bingley, Steve Corica and Kris Trajanovski each bagged a double and the other goal was an own goal following a corner kick by David Seal. Host nation Fiji tried to put a up defensive barrier but went down by three goals to nil, scored by Trajanovski, Okon and Lorenz Kindtner. That left the final match against New Zealand, but once again the young Socceroos were rampant and banged in another six unanswered goals. This time Seal scored a hat-trick and Bradley Maloney got two and Trajanovski one.
The next stage was much tougher though Australia had the advantage of playing both games against Israel at the Sydney Football Stadium in March 1991. Israel beat a very flat Young Socceroo team in the first match on 6 March by a single goal scored by Cohen in the 51st minute. The second game on 9 March saw Australia take an early two-goal lead through Seal after 6 minutes and Trajanovski in 17. Torjman pulled a goal back for Israel in 33 minutes, but the drama came in the final moments as Israel had the ball in the net twice but were denied both times for offside. Israeli defender Felix Halfon was sent off for overdoing his protest at the decisions. Even so it is not clear to me why Australia went through, unless the second game was regarded as the away leg and Australia’s goals counted double when the aggregate was tied. I asked Les Scheinflug and he thinks that is correct. An appeal by the Israeli general secretary to FIFA must also have failed to change the result.
So the Young Socceroos set off for Portugal in June to confront Trinidad and Tobago with Dwight Yorke in its line-up, the USSR and Egypt. Australia began with a two-nil win over Trinidad and Tobago. Yorke twice brought the best out of keeper Mark Bosnich, but the Young Socceroos dominated the match and went ahead with Paul Okon’s penalty in 54 minutes after David Seal had been upended. Seal made sure with a second goal in 78 minutes, but the strikers missed a number of chances. Brad Maloney’s 25-metre pile-driver was the only goal of a tight second match against the Soviet Union. Skipper Paul Okon was outstanding as sweeper and made such an impression that his transfer to FC Brugge in Belgium was probably settled on the spot. Knocking off one of the major powers in the game by pure football surprised many onlookers including FIFA President Joao Havelange who said it was one of the best youth games he had seen. The final group match against Egypt was settled by a 43rd minute strike from Kris Trajanovski, who replaced Mark Silic in the starting line-up for this game.
The quarter final against Syria was a very tight affair, which ended one-all after extra-time. David Seal headed home a long ball from full-back Robbie Stojcevski in 20 minutes, but the Syrians equalised when Abdullah Mando intercepted an Okon clearance and volleyed it past Bosnich. Australia hit the woodwork three times but could not get the winner and it went to penalties. Bosnich was the hero saving two and Robbie Stanton, who came on as substitute, scored the decisive sudden death kick. That set up a semi-final against the host nation.
Portugal had earlier won a bad-tempered match against Argentina which had three players sent off, but in front of a packed stadium it was always expected to account for Australia. The Australians had to communicate by sign-language as they could not hear each other, even when standing together, thanks to the noise in the stadium. The Young Socceroos held their opponents until the last minute of the first half, when Rui Costa curled a shot into the corner and away from the leaping Bosnich. Attacking in the second half, Adem Poric and Kris Trajanovski had net-bound efforts saved by Fernando Brassard.
In the bronze medal match Australia faced the Soviet Union again and this time the teams were level after ninety minutes and the dreaded shoot-out took place then, rather than after extra-time. Cherbakov gave the Russians an early lead from the penalty spot after Tony Popovic brought down Konavolov in 38 minutes. The Aussies kept plugging away and got an equaliser with only three minutes left through David Seal after an indirect free kick was tapped to him. This time Robbie Stanton’s sudden-death kick missed and their opponents won 5–4 on penalties. The Australians were presented with bronze medals for their performance, though the Russians finished third overall. Portugal went on to win the final against Brazil on penalties after a scoreless draw.
The Australian squad which took part in the final tournament included Mark Bosnich, Robert Spasevski, Robert Stojcevski, Kevin Muscat, Tony Popovic, Paul Okon, Lorenz Kindtner, Bradley Maloney, Steve Corica, Kris Trajanovski, Mark Silic, David Seal, Mark Babic, Robbie Stanton, Matthew Bingley, Adem Poric, George Sorras and Mark Schwarzer. Coach: Les Scheinflug. Assistant coach: Raul Blanco.