Sunderland striker Fletcher, Hearts whiz McGowan inspire Australia to U19 Asean Cup triumph

Australia were last night crowned Asean Football Federation (AFF) U-19 Champions after an enthralling 1-0 victory over Thailand making it Australia's second AFF U-19 Championship success in three year

Australia were last night crowned Asean Football Federation (AFF) U-19 Champions after an enthralling 1-0 victory over Thailand making it Australia's second AFF U-19 Championship success in three years.

The huge investment in Thailand football development in recent years was clearly starting to pay dividends as the highly organised and skilled Thailand team were more than a match for the more traditional powerhouses in Asia, South Korea and Australia throughout the tournament.

Thailand started the game in a confident manner knowing that the Australians had not managed to beat them on three separate encounters over the past two years with each of their previous games finishing in a draw.

But a late goal by Eli Babalj was enough to overcome a very tactically disciplined team and make amends for their heartbreaking 2009 loss to Thailand on penalties.

While Australia took time to adapt to the crowded midfield, Thailand continued to sit back, waiting to pounce on any mistakes which, with the likes of Hearts midfielder Dylan McGowan and Ben Kantarovski in great form, were few and far between.

Sunderland striker Matthew Fletcher, continuing his good form in this tournament was Australia’s main attacking threat early on linking up well Mustafa Amini, Mathew Leckie and Ben Hollaran in attack.

Thailand’s best chance in the game came in the 63rd minute of play when Pattana Sokjoho burst through the Australian defensive line only to see his shot narrowly miss the target.

“Thailand made things difficult for us once again, they are a very disciplined side and have a few excellent technical players,” Australia Head Coach Jan Versleijen.

“Credit must go to not only the players but to the whole staff as to win this Championship we had to play 4 tough games in 7 days in hot and humid conditions.

“The physical monitoring, recovery sessions, massage, appropriate nutrition and hydration were equally important as the technical and tactical input from Alistair and I.

“I must thank the AFF, the VFF and also the sponsors for making this tournament possible. It is an important tournament for youth development, it has served a great purpose in our preparation for the AFC Championship in China in October.”

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