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Are the Joeys’ slow starts evidence of a vacuum of opportunity for young Australian footballers?

With the Joeys currently involved in the FIFA U-17’s World Cup, some of Australia’s best young footballers are on show for the first time on the world stage. It is one of the rare opportunities for them to be so. Promising Australian talent is often well and truly distanced from public attention, with few tournaments available for them to show their wares.

All bar one of the U-17’s squad are contracted to professional clubs, with the majority honing their skills at youth level and biding their time before receiving a crack at top flight professional play.

Brisbane Roar’s Izaack Powell and Melbourne Victory’s Birkan Kirdar have both had a taste of the top level, yet for most it is something of a waiting game. That waiting builds frustration and a footballing anxiety to impress.

Such has appeared to be the case for the Joeys in both of their group matches thus far. Jumped early and stunned in the headlights by Ecuador, the young Australians were two goals behind after just nine minutes. There was something of a revival, plenty of possession and a late goal, yet it was a disappointing start to the tournament.

Things began in much the same way against Hungary yesterday. This time it took a little longer, 20 minutes in fact, for a two goal deficit to be established, but the Aussies were once again frantic and energetic without being poised and polished.

Prior to Hungary’s opener in the 14th minute, the Joeys had looked good, really good; seeking to make amends for their opening fixture. However, as soon as the Hungarians found their rhythm, the gaps began to appear and anxiety levels in the Joey’s squad appeared to increase.

What followed was the most stirring of second half comebacks from Australia. A penalty was followed by an equaliser in the 69th and 74th minutes and the Joeys should have won it late. Sadly, the winner did not come and it was to be just a lone point to keep hopes alive in the event.

It appeared clear that the Joey’s lack of experience and competitive opportunities affected their starts to both matches. Once they settled, particularly against Hungary, they looked just fine and the early swagger and confidence prior to going behind returned.

Just three members of the squad ply their trade overseas, with the remainder domestically based and involved in youth structures at A-League or NPL club level.

That essentially equates to players remaining in their home state/city and playing against opposition they know well and on a consistent basis.

A national competition similar to the FFA’s Y-League is required for them to improve, however the financial ramifications would be insurmountable for the clubs. The U-23 League can muster just eight competitive matches for its players; with clubs pooled into regions to restrain costs.

It is an unfortunate curse from which the wide brown land suffers, with airfares, accommodation and equipment expenses making extended national competitions at junior level nigh impossible.

Perhaps the answer lies in FFA supported and federation funded inter-state football, where representative teams from the eight states and territories compete for a national youth championship. School Sport Australia run such tournaments at U-16 and U-18 levels with great success.

Youth level championships would showcase the best young talent available and provide scouts with a centralised venue in which to witness that talent on show. It would expose players to all clubs across the Asian Confederation, something that is becoming increasingly important as the region grows at a rapid speed.

It is a concept that could be implemented across a range of age groups, potentially even as an extension of the U-23 Y-League concept.

It’s fundamental goal would be to have young football talent in Australia playing more often against the best opposition available; beyond club land. Forging further corporate connections, streaming inter-state matches and broadening Australia’s reach across Asia are also potential benefits.

As it stands, Australia’s youth squads are blessed with immense talent, yet appear poorly prepared for the rigours of international football. Increasing their domestic opportunities against elite opposition could go some way to improving performances on the world stage.

Of course, organising and funding such opportunities is another thing altogether.

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AFC reveals logo for the 2023 Asian Cup tournament

Asian Cup

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC), together with the Local Organising Committee (LOC), have confirmed the logo for the AFC Asian Cup China 2023.

The logo was revealed via a dazzling and immersive display that showcased the vibrant new design through projection mapping and Augmented Reality, as well as being projected on select iconic buildings across Shanghai’s skyline.

The launch, which was staged at the competition’s first completed stadium – Shanghai Pudong Football Stadium – also revealed the Host City logos in the first on-ground milestone event of the tournament, which will be held from June 16 to July 16, 2023.

The 18th edition of the tournament will see the Socceroos hoping to improve on their quarter-final loss to the United Arab Emirates in 2019.

In a special video message presented during the event, the AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa made the following statement:

“Over the years, each host nation has left a significant mark on Asian football, and we know that China PR will stage our greatest ever tournament in 2023.

“The AFC is pleased to mark our latest milestones and, on behalf of the Asian football family, I would like to congratulate the Local Organising Committee and the Venue Organising Committees of the 10 host cities for their commitment and efforts.

“The LOC continues to make great progress with the preparations to stage a memorable event, and I wish the Chinese Football Association, the LOC, the VOCs and all our stakeholders the very best of success in staging a truly world-class event.”

The 10 dynamic beams in the logo, which emanate from the bottom to form the image of the sun rising from the East, symbolise all the host cities of the AFC Asian Cup China 2023™ – underlining the ever-growing scale and future legacy of the tournament, which will be held in 10 different cities in one nation for the first time in Asian football history.

The process of localising the design and concept, in line with the master brands, was further influenced by the LOC’s proposal to embody ‘Light’ as a symbol and beacon of hope to overcome adversity, particularly pertinent during these challenging times and aptly emphasising the unifying force of Asia’s flagship men’s tournament in rallying together passionate fans and teams from the world’s most diverse continent.

Ivan Franjic: “I’m thankful and grateful that I was able to live my dream”

Socceroos Ivan Franjic

Ivan Franjic’s arrival at historic National Premier Leagues Victoria side Heidelberg United has come via an unconventional journey to say the least.

From his early beginnings in the then-named Victorian Premier League with the likes of St Albans Saints and Melbourne Knights, to playing for Russian side FC Torpedo Moscow, to playing in the third-largest urban agglomeration in Korea with Daegu FC, Franjic’s career has certainly been one to savour.

Whilst his career has seen injury setbacks, a blocked loan and unpaid wages with Torpedo Moscow – and the discovery of a potentially career-threatening rare inflammatory condition known as myocarditis in 2016 – Franjic is grateful to be where he is today and to have had the footballing experiences he’s had.

“I’ve been very fortunate with the success I’ve had over my travels, and I’ve experienced some different countries,” he said.

“It’s been a great journey and I’m thankful and grateful that I was able to live my dream and play for the Socceroos at a World Cup. Some Championships as well, so, can’t complain at all.”

Torpedo Moscow

And as for why Franjic opted to return to the NPL Victoria to take up an opportunity with Heidelberg United, a family connection and the quality of the league spoke for itself.

“My brother has played in the NPL for a fair bit and I’ve watched a few of his games. If you look at the FFA Cup you’ve always got a Victorian team in the semi-finals, so it must be saying something about how good the standard of the league is,” he said.

“I know the coach George Katsakis and he called me and my brother and said he was interested in signing us. And obviously Heidelberg have had success over the last few years where they’ve won a lot of trophies, so, they’re wanting to build a great team to have another successful year once again.

“Whenever you go to Heidelberg you see that they have a decent following and that everyone gets behind them, so it’ll be good. I’m looking forward to playing in the NPL this year and to finally be playing with my brother after all these years.”

Heidelberg United

Next year’s Victorian NPL season will mark 13 years since Franjic departed his then-Victorian Premier League side Oakleigh Cannons to take up an injury-replacement contract offer with Ange Postecoglou’s Brisbane Roar.

It was under the now-Celtic FC coach where Franjic impressed the Roar faithful and built a platform to launch himself into a regular starting berth with the Socceroos at right-back.

As a three-time A-League Men’s Championship winner with Brisbane, three-time Premiership winner with the Roar (twice) and Perth Glory (once), as well as an Asian Cup winner, Franjic has certainly been a key cog in some of Australian football’s most historic sides.

“Obviously, winning the Asian Cup is a massive achievement, it’s similar to someone winning the Euros or the Copa America. But I think in Australia, with soccer not being the number one sport, it’s always hard to get the media buzz of AFL and NRL because they’ve got a huge following,” he said.

“But when you look back on it you don’t realise how high of an achievement it actually was against Asia’s best.

“I’d had Ange as a coach for a few years and he’s no doubt one of the best managers I’d ever worked under. The whole buzz of being in Brazil, with security all around the hotel and obviously Brazil is a football-mad nation, so, everywhere you went people were following you.

“It was exciting, and I thought Australia gave a good account of themselves without getting results in that tournament.”

Each of these remarkable honours were earnt between globetrotting stints with Torpedo Moscow, Melbourne City and Daegu. But before returning to the National Premier Leagues Victoria, Franjic made one final stopover with newly-joined A-League Men’s expansion side Macarthur FC. He gave credit to the side that he helped in their foundation.

“It was no doubt a challenge starting up a new club from fresh and giving it a go. Credit has to go out to all of the staff and the owners; they did an amazing job for a club in their first year in terms of facilities and the stadium. Compared to other clubs that have come into the A-League they were very good,” he said.

Macarthur FC

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