Australia deserved U-17 win over United States.By Robert Wagman
(Wednesday, November 24, 1996) -- The semifinal between the United States and Australia in the FIFA Under-17 Men's World Championship was an epic match, one for the ages.
The U.S. showed remarkable character and fortitude in coming back from a two-goal deficit. But in the end the better team probably won, because the Australians were the better organized of the two, and were constantly dangerous, particularly in the 30 minutes of sudden-death overtime.
Australia advanced to face Brazil for the championship Saturday after recording a 7-6 edge in penalty kicks, and though this match was won in the tiebreaker, the better team prevailed. Yes, U.S. captain Kenneth Cutler did loft his final penalty try just over the bar to give the Australians the match. But the U. S. problems were more fundamental. The American defense was shaky all night. It was disorganized on Australia's first corner kick, leading to the first goal, and it was shaky in allowing Australian forwards to run through and to make turns.
Only a remarkable save by U.S. keeper Delvin Countess kept Australia from netting a third goal, and some bad luck on the Aussie's part kept them from ending it with a golden goal.
In contrast to the U.S.'s disorganization in the back -- and in fairness some of this was because of the need to keep pushing defenders forward into the attack to erase a deficit -- Australia's back four and its defensive midfield almost never lost form. The U.S. tried to push its short passing attack. But often after the third or fourth or even the fifth pass, it would be one pass too many, and the ball would be lost.
Landon Donovan's goal, one minute after the Australians went ahead by two at the 35th minute, kept the U.S alive. It was an extraordinary goal, but very much a solo effort. Basically Donovan beat three defenders running laterally from right to left and then hit a perfect curving shot into the upper corner of the net while at full speed.
The second American goal derived from pure physical effort. On a Donovan corner kick, U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu elevated above everyone, and the ball hit him in the back and caromed into the goal.
Donovan was the player of the match clearly. But the most skilled player on the field was Australian forward Joseph Di Iorio, a second-half sub who was a constant threat to the U.S. defense once entering.
It's easy to forget that this was a match between two young sides. It was competed at a high skill level, but still was played between two teams of teenagers. Time after time, the layers on both sides simply didn't yet possess the technical skill level to accomplish what they sought. On one occasion, U.S. striker Jordan Cila was the recipient of a long pass that would have been a sure goal except he couldn't settle it.
On another occasion, Donovan was sent a perfect pass in the box, which he would have buried if he had reached it. He did not.
This match was important for several perspectives. It must be extremely heartening to the Australians, and to the Oceania region in general. Many of the players on the field for Australia will move on to professional careers in Europe and quite likely represent the Down Under in the 2006 World Cup.
The same is true for the U.S. which is moving in the right direction. The third-place game against Ghana on Saturday night (Friday in the States) will be interesting, because it will match two squads who lost mirror matches, on penalty kicks after coming back to tie after going two goals down. Which team has the will to play through the disappointment?
Likewise the championship will be interesting. Don't be shocked if
Australia's organization defeats Brazil's creativity.
Robert Wagman is a regular contributor to SoccerTimes and can be e-mailed
Robert Wagman is a regular contributor to SoccerTimes and can be e-mailed at SoccerWag1@aol.com.