top of page
  • Writer's pictureMatt Olsen

Previewing an exciting month for Australia's "other" national teams

With the Socceroos having started the year with an Asian Cup campaign and the Matildas waltzing their way to the Olympics in Paris, 2024 has already been locked in as a massive year for Australia's national teams. However, what you may not know is that the "other" national team setups have a massive few weeks ahead of them to finish March, right through to the end of April, with silverware and many significant international tournament births up for grabs.

The Olyroos have a unique opportunity as invitees to the WAFF U23 Championship. (Image: Football Australia)


Following on from the Matildas' highly successful Olympic qualifying campaign, the men's football program, through the guise of the U23 Olyroos, will take to the pitch in their quest to reach a second consecutive Olympics, and just their third appearance since Beijing in 2008.


The overall vibe and expectation of this generation of players is reaching near its highest point prior to Olympics qualification in years. A long journey that started with a small round robin in Tajikistan back in September 2023 appears to be coming to a satisfying though hardly straightforward finish for the Olyroos.

The lineup of fixtures and permutations is intriguing, given that qualification is decided through the U23 AFC Asian Cup. Starting on April 15, the Olyroos are in Group A alongside hosts Qatar, Jordan, and Indonesia.


A semi-final appearance will ensure qualification. For Australia, a quarter-final match will likely be against Japan or South Korea to advance. If achieved, the situation is further exacerbated by the semi-final result, where a third-place playoff acts as a one-off qualification match. The loser, the fourth-placed side at the tournament, will face the Confederation of African Football's (CAF) fourth-place finisher at their U23 Africa Cup of Nations last year, Guinea, in a playoff in France, to be played at an undetermined date.


On top of that, the warmup tournament for the Asian Cup is the West Asian Football Federation (WAFF) U23 Championship, and its format is frankly bizarre.

Australia and two other East Asian nations, Thailand and South Korea, along with African side Egypt, have been invited to the Saudi Arabian-hosted tournament. The tournament's four "groups" are seeded as single matches.


As Australia beat Iraq in their first one-off match in Al-Fateh, they have advanced to the semi-finals. Thankfully, it means they have avoided essentially playing consolidation matches at the tournament. It would have been a strange dynamic with technically uncompetitive and glorified friendlies.


In the overall picture, with heightened expectations on the squad, the Olyroos met expectations with victory over Iraq in the Group D match. Given the difficulty posed by the location of the match in the Middle East, Tony Vidmar's side have been able to seek a higher esteem of themselves to continue their momentum.


Elsewhere, the Young Matildas have qualified for the 2024 U20 World Cup in Colombia, to be played this September. However, their Asian Cup finish may be marred by their semi-final performance, which saw Japan throw Australia far out of their depth in the latter stages of the match, comfortably winning 5-1.

The Young Matildas topped Group A at the U20 Asian Cup, securing their place at the World Cup in September. (Image: The AFC Media)


It started out as an exciting campaign for the Young Matildas, with an impressive win over South Korea in game one ultimately setting them up for success. The match was played in conditions so dreadful in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent that the PFA released a statement showing their displeasure with the AFC.


Across the women's program, the U17s have also had their draw made for World Cup qualification and their Asian Cup campaign. They have been placed in a group with China, Thailand, and Japan, with the competition to be played in Indonesia, starting in the first week of May.


Should all three women's sides qualify for major international tournaments within three months of one another, a real statement of intent on the growth and status of Australia's place within the game globally will have been made.

It is strongly encouraged that you monitor whether the next generation of Tillies progress from strength to strength across Asia, as the Junior Matildas have never actually made it to the U17 World Cup since FIFA founded it in 2008.


The other battlers set to cap off a significant period for Australian football are the Futsalroos, destined to give it their all in a quest to qualify against the odds for the FIFA Futsal World Cup for the third time in 20 years.


First, Miles Downie's side will travel to Thailand to compete in the NSDF Futsal Championships, an invite-only tournament which will serve as preparation for April’s Asian Cup campaign. The six-day event will see the Futsalroos compete in a round robin style format against teams from Thailand, Afghanistan, and Malaysia.

What stands out with this team is how it is symbolising a recovery of the reputation of futsal as a code and a pathway for the game, one that seemingly lost its way through popularity and funding from the Football Australia board following a successful 2016 World Cup campaign.


Much like the Olyroos, seeing this team be moulded into one that can compete has been adoring. The admiration for this team has been noted following their Asian Cup qualification, not just for the increased performance and results but also to establish the code, secure funding, and have Football Australia realise futsal's full potential as a development pathway for the sport as a whole, something Futsalroos manager Downie has been sure to comment on at length.

So, the Futsalroos will tackle the Futsal Asian Cup in Thailand from April 17, running in tandem with the Olyroos' Olympic qualifying matches that same week.


The Australians face a group with the lowest seeded Pot 1 and 2 sides in Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia, along with Pot 3 nation Iraq. With Uzbekistan hosting the World Cup, they will set the ultimate benchmark for how far this generation of the Futsalroos can go.

 

READ MORE ON FPF

The Futsalroos celebrating Asian Cup qualification in Taipei City. (Image: Football Australia)


Owing to Uzbekistan's status as hosts, qualification is tricky. Making a quarterfinal, likely against fellow ASEAN rivals Thailand or Vietnam, could be enough to secure a place at the World Cup, or in the more probable scenario, quarterfinalists may enter a separate playoff as the Uzbeks are expected to advance to the semis.


A fifth-place playoff may be required, and fortunes may have to be on Australia's side, so the message to Downie's squad under this premise is to keep the discipline and goal difference squeaky clean when against the odds.


Ultimately, this upcoming month, in an overbearing sense, can transform and show off exactly how the game has grown despite the issues off field in its senior domestic competitions, and prove that Australian football has its place on the map.

Almost all the teams mentioned in this piece have historical precedence written in their immediate future. Any onlookers should keep their eyes peeled for the simple fact that it may be the month Australia begins to put its foot down, making a name for itself as guaranteed knockout participants across the spectrum of programs: young, emerging, and established within Asia.


For this reason, the game could prove its value as a beacon of hope for greater diversity of engagement, proving that it is more than what we see at face value. It is so much more than what the professional leagues fail to show to the wider sporting and cultural community.


Front Page Football covers Australia's national men's and women's teams! Click here to read more about the former, and here for more coverage of the latter!

Commenti


bottom of page