In 1993 Australia would host the seventh edition of the FIFA U20 Youth World Cup and would become the first nation to do so twice after hosting the first official World Youth Championship twelve years earlier in 1981.
The tournament was played at five sites located in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, and Canberra with almost 480,000 spectators flocking to the thirty two matches on offer.
FIFA president at the time, Dr João Havelange on the tournament:
The tournament itself proved to be superb. As well as the established football nations such as Brazil and England, other countries, in particular Ghana and the host country, Australia, had teams whose players could be prominent in football in the future.
The Australians were led by the incomparable Les Scheinflug whose Australian youth teams throughout the nineties consistently showed they were more than a match for the more highly-rated footballing nations.
“Les Schienflug was a coach we all respected,” recalled Ante Milicic who partnered Paul Agostino up front during the tournament.
“He made us call him the Boss. He was very strict. He was a motivator and his staff were his eyes and ears – he knew everything.”
Automatic qualification for the hosts saw Australia play twenty eight training matches across four continents against opponents such as Borussia Dortmund, Brazil, Ajax, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia. Scheinflug would try out 40 youngsters until he settled on his final squad of eighteen.
“We had a really good preparation for the World Youth Championship,” Socceroos assistant Ante Milicic told Football Central.
This tournament though, as the host nation, meant the expectation and focus on the Young Socceroos would be unlike that in previous tournaments.
“The fact that we were hosting meant that the Australian Soccer Federation needed us to do well. Also the ’91 team got to the semi-final in Portugal meaning expectations were high.
“We played teams from all over the world, countries or reserve teams in Europe. I remember us staying for close to a month in Papendal in Holland and we played teams from Germany, Holland & Belgium. We used to have 4 to a room I think back then.
“We also played in a good tournament in Venezuela also in hot conditions. We really travelled a lot and our team spirit was excellent. A lot of us also were together at the Australian Institute of Sports in 91-92.
“We weren’t a great team but we we’re fit and we’re not scared of anyone. The standouts at the time were Moore, Muscat & Agostino. Muscat was a great captain. Moore was younger than the rest but a big talent. Agostino was already playing in Europe (with Young Boys in the Swiss league) which was rare in those days for a young Australian.”
Below is the formation and various starting lineups used for the six games the Young Socceroos would participate in:
Australia were drawn in Group A along with Colombia, Russia, and Cameroon with the games to be played in Sydney at the Sydney Football Stadium. The Young Socceroos would start the tournament against Colombia in front of a parochial home crowd of close to 32,000.
“First game versus Colombia we were nervous but at the same time knew we could win at home,” remembered Milicic.
“We went behind (to a Henry Zambrano goal in the 35′minute) but myself (39′) & Muscat (78′) scored to win the game and we deserved the 3 points.”
Milicic and Agostino formed a strong partnership which would reap five goals in six games and would go along way in helping Australia progress in the tournament giving defenses all sorts of headaches.
“I had a good partnership with Agostino. We got along off the pitch also. He was great in the air whilst I liked the ball on the ground.He was physical – I was technical. We complemented each other,” the former Young Socceroo said.
This partnership would serve Australia well in the second group game against the Russians. In front of a disappointing crowd of just under 19,000, the hosts seemed to lack the spark of the first game too with the “technically refined” Russians prowing a stern test.
The Aussies were gifted an early goal in the 12th minute through an own goal by Murad Magomedov but leveled soon after courtesy of Sergei Chudin. The game became a graft after that but an injury to the Russian keeper in the second half saw Australia take advantage through Milicic (69′) and then Agostino (81′) with both scoring from their heads.
This result had Australia on top and with a game against a Cameroon side who had lost their first two matches, they seemed certainties to finish top. Over 27,000 turned out hoping to see the Aussies defeat the Cameroonians, win the group and subsequently stay in Sydney for the quarter final.
“We should’ve won our group. We won our first two games and Cameroon lost their first two games.
“We played Cameroon in the third game to top the group. I scored in the first game against Colombia and the second game versus Russia. Les rested Craig Moore who had a great understanding with Muscat and myself for this third game.
“We lost 0-2 and then had to leave Sydney and go to Brisbane for the Uruguay quarter final.”
For coach Les Scheinflug he thought perhaps the Young Socceroos had gone into the game with the wrong mindset and perhaps copped what they deserved.
“It was a great lesson for the boys who had a little cockiness knocked out of them,” the Boss told edit after the game.
The quarter final started off cautiously with both sides throwing plent of players behind the ball but it was the Uruguayans who would draw first blood thanks to a neat one-two between Sergio Sena and Fernando Correa which saw the former sliding the ball past a despairing Vincent Matassa. Australia’s superior fitness and mental toughness came to the fore again.
“Uruguay was a really good team but died in the 70th minute – unfit. They had two top strikers in Correa & O’Neil.”
Australia had the bulk of possession in the first half but Uruguay looked the more dangerous, though they were dealt a blow when their coach was sent to the stands for leaving his technical area and coaching from the sideline.
In the 59th minute, Agostino would rise above two defenders to restore parity but the ensuing 30-plus minutes would prove to be nerve wracking for the 14,000 in attendance. Ending in a stalemate, the game would go to extra-time with the winner potentially to be decided by the dreaded “golden goal”.
It was a piece of individual brilliance from Jim Tsekenis down the right which set up Anthony Carbone to nod in the winner sending every Aussie in the stadium into rapture and causing some of the Uruguayan players to be restrained from taking out revenge for their shock departure from the tournament.
Following the physically and mentally draining quarter final, Australia would face one of the most daunting challenges in world football in the semi-final, Brazil.
The Brazilians were coming off a more comfortable 3-nil result over the U.S. in Adelaide. The two teams would travel to Melbourne for the semifinal, Australia was one match away from their first ever final.
The Brazilians went into the match disgruntled by the decision to appoint a German referee given Scheinflug’s German roots, and also having to wear their alternative kit (of blue shirt with white shorts) for the first time in the tournament. Nevertheless the match went ahead without any changes in front of 22,100 at Olympic Park.
The game was again was a real battle especially in midfield with both creating few chances but failing to capitalise. It wasn’t until the 77th minute Brazil worked a two on one situation with Matassa not able to contain Marcelinho, who lift the ball over Australia’s goalkeeper.
Australia fought hard for an equaliser – something they had a knack of getting – but a moment of magic from Cate in the 89th minute put the result beyond doubt and left the Aussies wondering “what if?”
Scheinflug expressed to the media following the match just how devastated and exhausted the team where after giving it their all.
“This is the knock-out blow, and if you could see those boys now you would understand what they feel. It is like a bomb has gone off in the dressing room.”
Brazil’s coach Julio Leal was effusive in his praise of the brave, young Australians tipping them for future success in the game.
“Australia has the basis for a really great senior team for the future. This country now belongs to the top rank of world football.”
A third place playoff match would follow for the Australians against the old enemy, England. Back in Sydney, over 40,000 turned out for the double-header with the Australia versus England game the curtain raiser. Australia would go down 2-1 losing to a late Julian Joachim goal.
“The 3 v 4 play off was a strange feeling,” recalled Milicic.
“We were the curtain raiser to the final. We lost 2-1 but we didn’t recover well from our semi final defeat to Brazil.”