Australia kept alive their dreams of making it to the last four stage of the AFC Youth Championships when they thrashed Thailand 3-1 in their second Group B league match at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan on Wednesday. Having lost their opening match to China on Monday, Australia were staring down the barrel when they were reduced to 10 as early as in the 22nd minute of the match.
The Thais, having beaten UAE in their opening match had already showed they would be no pushovers, and with a one-man advantage Payong Khunnan’s boys really should have made the difference count. They could not, and now after the second match both Thailand and Australia are on three points.
China having suffered some uncomfortable moments, managed to hold on to a 2-1 win over 10-man UAE. The latter bowed out of the tournament. UAE’s Musallem Al Hamadani was sent-off after he was booked for the second time in the match in the 67th minute.
Thailand had the better of the exchanges initially. Striker Wisoot Bunpeng picked up a well-weighted through and had the first clear sight of the Aussie goal. But his shot was too weak to put any pressure on Tando Velaphi under the Aussie bar.
A silly tackle on Thai midfielder Kriangkari Pimrat by USA-born Aussie striker Bruce Djite forced the Iranian referee Mohsen Torky flash the red card. Dijte had missed the first match as he was serving an earlier disciplinary suspension when he was booked twice in the two qualifiers against Turkmenistan and Sri Lanka.
His AFC Youth Championship too could be over and understandably the 18-year-old had tears rolling down his eyes as he made his way to the dressing room.
But something happened then. Instead of the Thais laying siege on the Aussie goal, it were the latter who pushed the tempo — Aussie aggression they say. A long ball by skipper Christopher Grossman from the midfield was neatly picked up and slotted home by Nathan Burns and the Aussies were 1-0 up.
The Thailand defenders did hesitate for a moment in closing down on Burns thinking the Aussie was offside but the flag stayed down. By the time Thai goalkeeper Chatchai Bootprom charged out, it was too late.
Just five minutes later, the Aussies were 2-0 up. Dario Vidosic and Thai central defender Ponlawat Wangkhad both rose to get to a floater inside the box. Vidosic missed the flight but the ball hit the defender’s hand and the referee pointed to the spot. Vidosic calmly slotted home.
Thailand pulled one back through the second spot-kick of the match. This resulted after Anwawin Jujeen was brought down by Peter Eleftherakis. Thai defender Suttinun Phukhom converted.
In the second half, the Thais showed more intent but the Aussies defended with grit and came up with sharp counterattacks. It was Burns himself who drove the last nail on the Thai coffin in the second-half injury time. Troy Hearfield, facing his own goal, flicked one over the line of Thai defenders and Burns, running in from the right, chested down and volleyed home in a single action.
The crowds again stayed away from the stadium and there were more people at the East Bengal ground to witness the home team take on Calcutta Port Trust in a CFL Premier Division match. And with India virtually out of the meet, even lesser turnouts could be expected for the later stages.