The Qantas Next Young Socceroos will face Thailand in the final of the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) U19 Youth Championship after defeating host nation Vietnam 4-1 in the semi-final at the Thong Nhat Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City on Monday night.
The atmosphere was electric as the locals turned up in force to see the two tournament favourites produce a highly entertaining, free flowing display of football.
The attacking intent of both teams was apparent from the start with Qantas Next Young Socceroo Mathew Leckie breaking quickly down the right wing as early as the fourth minute to provide a pin point cross to Eli Babalj who headed just wide of the post.
The Vietnamese, who had been in camp for the past four weeks in preparation for this championship, were taking the game to the Qantas Next Young Socceroos with their lightning quick counterattacks causing many problems.
Much to the delight of the noisy home supporters, Vietnam produced wave after wave of sustained pressure and, if not for some great work from Qantas Next Young Socceroo goalkeeper Mark Birighitti and some desperate defending from Dylan McGowan and Petar Franjic, could have easily have been two goals up early in the match.
In the 6th minute Vietnamese striker Nguyen Duy unleashed a 25 metre thunderbolt that Birighitti managed to tip onto the left hand post with a diving save at full stretch. The ball then bounced back into play along the goal line before it was eventually cleared by McGowan.
The frantic opening moments continued as Jason Davidson made a run up the middle of the field in the 12th minute to then unleash a 30 metre effort that just went over the bar.
Vietnam had another attempt in the 21st minute through Nguyen Xuan Hung with his shot hitting the crossbar.
A tactical change in midfield from Qantas Next Young Socceroos Head Coach Jan Versleijen midway through the first half resulted in his team starting to control the game with some outstanding passages of sustained possession play.
The Qantas Next Young Socceroos opened their account in the 28th minute with a moment of brilliance from James Virgilli who turned his marker inside out and crossed to Leckie who slammed the ball into the goal.
This silenced the crowd but not the spirit of the Vietnamese players as they quickly looked to reduce the deficit. A great tackle and interception on one of these raids by McGowan set up a counterattack with Babalj, Leckie and Virgilli against an exposed two man Vietnamese defence but on this occasion the attacking threesome missed the opportunity that should have doubled the Qantas Next Young Socceroos lead.
This proved costly as within 30 seconds the scores where level. A mistimed pass from midfield was intercepted by Nguyen Dihn Bao who took the ball down the right wing to produce a fine cross to Ma Minh Tuan. Minh Tuan's glancing header gave Birighitti little chance of saving and with that goal, Vietnam were back in the match.
Babalj had another great chance to put the Qantas Next Young Socceroos in the lead just before half time but again his header from a Leckie cross sailed marginally over the crossbar.
The second half is where the Qantas Next Young Socceroos produced their best 45 minutes of football for the tournament. The half time tactical instructions, alongside the introduction of Jared Lum, resulted in the Qantas Next Young Socceroos taking complete control of the game.
The Vietnamese had no answer for the midfield of Steve Lustica, Kliment Taseski and Lum. Virgilli was having an inspired game on the left and the timely introduction of Joshua Groenewald in the 57th minute had the Vietnamese under even more pressure.
In the 70th minute a foul on Lum resulted in a free-kick out wide on the left. Lustica hit the dead ball to the back post which was met by Groenewald. Groenewald then controlled and rolled the ball into the path of the onrushing Daniel Bowles who slammed home from close range.
Gaps in the Vietnamese defence started to appear as the home team searched form an equaliser, but with the Qantas Next Young Socceroos defence holding firm, and some excellent transition play, there were signs of more goals to come for the Australians.
Virgilli got his reward for a man of the match performance with an outstanding individual goal in the 81st minute and Joshua Groenewald finished the scoring deep into additional time as he raced on to a through ball by Lustica to lob the advancing goalkeeper.
Qantas Next Young Socceroo Head Coach Jan Versleijen was very pleased with not only the result but the quality of play by both teams.
"The (4-1) score line did not reflect the evenness of the game against a very organised, highly technical Vietnamese team", said Versleijen.
"It was a very good game, both teams played very well and the players really appreciated the vocal support of the local crowd.
"From the start we were under pressure as they played with four strikers but we made a few adjustments and then started to control the midfield.
"Our understanding of our play style is getting better game by game and I am really pleased that the players were able to adapt to the tactical changes that were necessary during the first half.
"Mark (Birighitti) has been fantastic in goal for the whole tournament and he again made some great saves at important moments today. James Virgilli is also really doing well and has been the deciding factor for us."
"We won this tournament last year and we are all looking forward to playing in another major regional final", concluded Versleijen.
In the other semi-final, Thailand defeated Malaysia 1-0 courtesy of a goal in the 55th minute from their captain Surachet Ngamtip.
The Qantas Next Young Socceroos will now face Thailand in the final on Wednesday 12 August (Kick off 5:45pm local, 8:45pm AEST) at the Thong Nhat Stadium, with Vietnam and Malaysia playing off for 3rd place prior.
Later in the year, the Qantas Next Young Socceroos will compete at the AFC U19 Youth Championships Qualifier Tournament in Jakarta, with the top three nations advancing to the AFC U19 Youth Championships which will be held in 2010.