Australia will be looking to return to the glory days of their FIFA U-20 World Cup campaigns of the 1990s, having failed to qualify last time around for the first time in two decades. Semi-finalists in 1991 and 1993, the Young Socceroos also regularly progressed past the group stage with many of the star players making the transition to the senior national team. The embarrassing exit from the qualifiers two years ago contrasts with the current campaign in which the team achieved their qualification goal with style.
Unlike recent generations of youth international players, the majority of the current squad are regulars at their respective A-League clubs providing the opportunity for regular competition at senior level.
The Australians topped their four-team group with wins over Jordan and Thailand and a draw against eventual runners-up Uzbekistan, enough to guarantee first place and a quarter-final pairing with Korea DPR. The structure of the 16-team AFC U-19 Championship effectively meant this match was a play-off for a berth in Egypt. Australia prevailed in nail-biting fashion with striker Mitch Nichols scoring a remarkable overhead kick for a 2-1 extra time win to ensure a spot in Egypt.
The Australians were comprehensively beaten by a dynamic United Arab Emirates side in the semi-final but the primary objective had been achieved a few days earlier. The heat experienced in Saudi Arabia will likely prove a good learning environment for the Australians and the other Asian nations competing in Egypt.
Australia U-20 boss Jan Versleijen is the latest in a number of Dutchmen making an imprint in the football scene Down Under. He has an extensive coaching background in the Netherlands, Asia and the Middle East at both senior and youth levels. A product of the renowned Dutch development structure, he has also held the position of coach of the Dutch U-17 and U-23 national teams. Amongst the clubs on Versleijen's resume are VVV Venlo, Roda JC and Go Ahead Eagles in his native land, JEF United in Japan, and clubs in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Versleijen is also currently head coach of the Australian Institute of Sport football program for elite young players, which includes some members of the current squad.
The squad contains numerous highly skilled players based at home and in Europe. Midfielder and captain James Holland, who was snapped up by Dutch club AZ Alkmaar after being one of the youngest players to be capped by the senior Socceroos, is expected to be the Aussies' key man. U-17 national team stars Ben Kantarovski and Kofi Danning could also shine in Egypt.
• Australia is set to make their 13th appearance at a FIFA U-20 World Cup
• They are one of the few countries to host the tournament twice having done so in 1981 and 1993
• Australia reached the semi-finals in consecutive tournaments in 1991 and 1993
What they said
"We deserve to have qualified for Egypt. It is important for Australian Football that we qualify for the World Cup to improve the development of this group of players," Australia U-20 boss Jan Versleijen.
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