'Group of Death' Joeys keen to face world's best

When Australia’s Joeys were drawn with Germany, Argentina and Mexico in the U-17 World Cup, pundits were quick to label it the ‘Group of Death’.

Not coach Tony Vidmar who sees it as an opportunity for his young charges to defy the critics’ dire predictions.

The former Socceroos defender said the team’s objectives remained the same despite the tough draw.

“We consider this to be the challenge we want,” Vidmar told FourFourTwo.

“We will go to the World Cup playing the Australian way of trying to control the game in and out of possession and not fearing any opposition.

“We are going to the World Cup so the pressure is the same. Anytime an Australian team goes to the World Cup the expectation is to do well.

“We want to play to the best of our ability and it will be tested more because of Germany, Mexico and Argentina.

“We will probably have the youngest team at the World Cup – some players will have just turned 16 – so we want them to take in the occasion and not be overwhelmed.”

Players expected to excel at the World Cup include Udinese starlet, Panos Armenakas, and Liverpool youngster Jake Brimmer. But an injury cloud hangs over Brimmer after he was left out of pre-tournament training tour.

 “Jake Brimmer is in the pool of players for the World Cup,” Vidmar said.

 “He is coming back from injury and is about to play friendly games for his club Liverpool so we thought it was best to leave Jake there.

“We want to have a look at other players who haven’t played international football to see how they go. There are a number of players locally and overseas who we want to see before we make the final decision on the 21 players.

“We haven’t finalised our squad yet but there are many players we expect to do well. We look at it as a long term development. The players will get three group games of high quality and so much can happen there.”

Before the draw the Joeys were bound for a South American tour with warm up matches against Argentina.  But the plans were changed when the Australians found themselves in Group C with the footballing powerhouse.

“As we drew Argentina in the group stages, the tour was cancelled,” Vidmar said.

“We were invited to play in a tournament in France and play against France and the USA. France are European champions. USA we have played them already and they are a very good team.

“This are the kind of opposition we want to play more often and to continually test where we are at.”

One of the challenges Australian national youth teams face is getting sufficient competitive games compared to their European and South American counterparts. But Vidmar believes the Joeys program is adequate even though there is room for more global competitive fixtures.

Vidmar added: “In the past 12 months the players in the program have played 48 competitive matches. That includes 18 fixtures in the ACT National Premier League, 18 National Youth League games and 12 International games.

“In total we probably play more club games than these countries but their international games would be more than us. We feel that we would want to play more high quality international opposition to give our players more learning moments.”

 Vidmar, 45, retired from a glittering playing career in 2008 and has been involved in coaching the Australian Under 17 side since 2013.

While the 76-capped Socceroo enjoys the role, there are some factors to consider when working with younger players specifically the task of monitoring the Aussies abroad.

“Keeping tabs on players who are playing overseas and not being able to get game footage of players” is an ongoing issue he said.

“Building a relationship with these players has helped us with this, but we have had situations where clubs refuse to allow us access of footage of our Australian players.

“I think I have the best coaching job in Australia, apart from the Socceroos, as I work all year round with this group of players.

“There are many challenges working with youth players as they come in as young boys but leave us as young men. They develop quickly physically and at times players don’t progress as you would have hoped.

“Communication with them is paramount, as players will literally do what you tell them to do. So we want them to understand what we are doing and why, because if they understand the ‘why’ they will make better decisions.

“I like the players to challenge the coaching staff because we will challenge the players.”

Photo credit: footballaustralia.com.au

Con Stamocostas is an Australian football writer. Click here to see more of his work and check out the latest episode of his A-League Snobcast with co-host Rob Toddler.