Australia equalised from 3-2 down with just seven minutes remaining to force a nerve-jangling penalty shootout with Vietnam at the end of which the boys from Down Under were crowned winners of the AFF Smart Under-16 Youth Football Championship at the Olympic Stadium on Saturday evening.
The 8-6 victory for Australia was all the sweeter as they gained revenge for a 3-0 defeat by Vietnam in their pool encounter. They had looked in danger of losing out again until captain John Roberts produced the late equaliser from a goalkeeping error late in the game to catch up with their rivals 3-3 before the end of regulation time.
After their late fightback, Australia dominated the ensuing shootout without a miss, while Vietnam’s third attempt was a blank, with Nguyen Xuan Kiem’s drive saved by Australian goalkeeper Noah James.
One after the other, Pieras, Moric, Roberts and Valenti shot home from the spot, with Bryce Bafford driving in the winner after Vietnam’s misfire. For Vietnam, Ngoc Tien, Vu Quang Do and Huynh Sang were on target.
In his after-match comments, Australian head coach Antony Vidmar acknowledged that the huge crowd support was a crucial factor in his team’s victory, the second for the nation at this level of competition since their 2008 triumph in Jakarta.
“The support from the stands was immense,” Vidmar said.
“That motivated us to push forward and never give up.”Vietnam head coach Dinh The Nam said: “It was so close, very close to winning. It was a very good game against a very strong team – just unfortunate with the penalties’’ he said.
Defending champions Thailand outplayed Cambodia 3-0 in the third place playoff. All three Thai goals came in the first half, through Peerapat Kaminthong, Kowawich Tasa and Arnon Prasongporn.
Cambodia’s fourth place finish is the best the Kingdom has done so far in this competition. In six previous appearances, beginning in 2002, the side had failed to get past the group stage.
Earlier in the semifinals on Thursday night, Australia edged defending champions Thailand 5-3 in a penalty shootout after the teams were locked at 3-3 at the end of regulation time, while a capacity crowd at Olympic Stadium had a disappointing evening as Cambodia went down 1-0 to Vietnam.
The only goal of a hard fought game came in the 28th minute when Nguyen Khac Khiem turned in a corner from Tran Van Dat.
Despite playing under pressure, Cambodia created several promising chances, including one by Chhoeung Visinu, whose attempt in the 62nd minute was cleared off the line, while Sin Kakada’s shot hit the crossbar.
“I really feel sorry for the people who turned up to support us, but our players tried very hard,” said Cambodia Under-16s head coach Inoue Kazunori.