Stepping Stones

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One of the ongoing converstaions in football is around youth development and pathways. The 2018 Asian Youth Championships held in Jakarta sparked the most recent debate among Australian fans and media. A spot in the FIFA U20 World Championships was on the line.

Since 1981, young Australian players have been able to show their wares to an international audience via the FIFA Youth World Cup. It can be a stage to launch a career or the peak for a promising talent.

Looking at the fifteen editions we’ve been a part of from our first in 1981 to our last one in 2013, we can get an idea of their importance and relevance to the general health and direction of the sport through the careers of the participants.

The National Soccer League was launched  in 1977, giving players a national competition in which to compete against the best domestic players and quality imports. The now-defunct NSL and current Aleague have played crucial roles in preparing our up-and-coming players for international competitions and taking the next step in their careers.

Below is a look at the European careers and the senior national team caps of former youth representatives. Europe has always been seen as the dream destination for the vast majority of Australian players and that continues today. Although Asian leagues have been able to offer more lucrative contracts both in the past and now than what’s been available domestically and has the advantage of the  ”plus one” rule, Europe remains the standard-bearer and perceived better launching pad for a football career.

Australia 1981

Australia were the host nation, drawing Argentina, Cameroon and England in their group. The Aussies managed to finish second to England after securing draws with England and Cameroon and a win over Argentina, advancing to the quarter finals to face West Germany. They lost in the quarters 0-1.

Of this playing group, 3 of the 18 would go on to play in Europe.

Oscar Crino made the move to Cyprus in 1985 but was back in Australia for the 1987 season.

David Mitchell enjoyed a long career playing in many countries including Scotland, Germany, Holland and England. He left in 1983 and returned in 1996.

Jim Patikas was the third member of this team to venture abroad. He would go to Greece from 1981 to 1985 with a brief return in 1993.

Total senior caps: 91

Mexico 1983

Drawn with Scotland, South Korea and Mexico, Australia would not get out of the group after picking up a win against Scotland, a draw with Mexico and a loss to South Korea. They finished third behind Scotland and South Korea.

Jim Patikas was once again in the side but joining him as a future overseas player was Frank Farina. Only 2 of the 18 members of this squad would go to Europe.

Frank Farina left in 1988 and returned in 1995. He played in Belgium, Italy, England and France.

Total senior caps: 94

Soviet Union 1985

Once more Australia would have to play the host nation and once again finished third in their group which consisted of the Soviet Union, Nigeria and Canada. This time there were no wins, only two draws and a loss.

Of the 18 players in the squad, only Chris Kalantzis would carve out a career in Europe. Kalantzis spent a decade in Greece with giants Olympiakos and Panathinaikos.

Total senior caps: 7

Chile 1987

For the third straight time, Australia played the host nation along with Yugoslavia and Togo. Once more they finished third in the group with a win over Togo accompanying two losses.

Five members of the 18 would go on to Europe.

George Kulcsar moved in 1992 and played in Belgium and England retiring after a spell in Singapore.

Jason Polak spent time in Watford’s youth team between 1985 and 1987 before moving back to Europe from 1989 to 1994. His career took him to England, Greece and the Netherlands.

John Anastasiadis moved to Greece from 1988 until 1997.

Jason van Blerk first moved to Belgium for the 1990/91 season before a stint back home and another prolonged stay abroad from 1992 to 2003. He played in Belgium, England and the Netherlands.

Alistair Edwards first moved to Europe in 1988 for a short time with Glasgow Rangers before returning and then going back overseas in 1989 until 1996. However the second stint was mostly in Asia until 1994 where he spent time with Millwall.

Total senior caps: 81

Saudi Arabia 1989

Australia did not qualify. In fact, there was no OFC representative this edition.

Portugal 1991

Australia chalked up three victories to finish top of a group featuring the Soviet Union, Trinidad & Tobago and Egypt. They then won a penalty shootout against Syria before losing in the semis 0-1 to eventual champions, Portugal. The Young Socceroos finished an impressive fourth overall.

Nine of the 18 players would go on to play in Europe with Mark Bosnich, Paul Okon, Tony Popovic, Kevin Muscat and Zeljko Kalas the most notable.

Adem Poric played in England from 1993 to 1998.

David Seal would spend tim in both Belgium and England between 1993 and 1999.

Lorenz Kindtner had a career in Belgium from 1993 to 2004.

Steve Corica spent a decade in England from 1995.

Total senior caps: 236

Australia 1993

Once more Australia would host the Youth World Cup. They finished second on goal difference to Russia after wins against Russia and Colombia and a loss to Cameroon. In the quarters they knocked out Uruguay 2-1 before going out to Brazil 0-2. Like the previous edition, they would finish fourth.

Nine of the 18-man squad would play in Europe. Kevin Muscat was a returning member but other notable players of this group were Craig Moore, Paul Agostino and Ante Milicic.

Frank Juric spent over a decade in Germany from 1997.

Ante Juric spent 1995/96 in Portugal and returned to Europe in 1999 when he joined a Norwegian side.

Ante Modric spent 1997 in Croatia.

Vasco Trpcevski also spent a year in Portugal, 1995/96.

Tony Carbone had a couple of season in England between 1994 and 1996.

Finally, Vince Matassa made a rather late journey over to England in 2000/01 with lower league, Woking.

Total senior caps: 82

Qatar 1995

Placed in Group D with Cameroon, Costa Rica and Germany. Australia finished second in the group to Cameroon defeating Costa Rica, drawing with Germany and losing to Cameroon. A young Mark Viduka would score 4 of our 5 group game goals. Australia went out in extra time 1-2 to Portugal.

Ten of the 18 spent time in Europe. Mark Viduka and Josip Skoko were the most notable alumni from this group

Mark Rudan spent a couple of seasons in Germany from 2000 to 2002. He’d later return overseas to play a year in Japan.

Ufuk Talay had a long career in Turkey from 1995 to 2005.

Robbie Enes spent a year in England for the 1997/98 season.

Nick Lazarevski would go to Switzerland for the 1995/96 season.

Dino Mennillo didn’t venture to Europe until 2001 when he spent one season with Bradford City.

Andy Vlahos had a couple of stints in Greece and Belgium from 1998 to 2000 and 2003 to 2005.

Robert Middleby spent two seasons in Germany from 1997 to 1999.

Goalkeeper Les Pogliacomi went to England from 2002 to 2008.

* Clint Bolton didn‘t join any senior sides in Europe but he spent a few years with Aston Villa’s youth academy in the late 80s.

Total senior caps: 110

Malaysia 1997

Australia topped their group which included Argentina, Canada and Hungary. The highlight of this tournament was Kosta Salapasidis scoring 4 goals against eventual champions, Argentina. Australia went out in the Round of 16, losing 0-1 to Japan.

Thirteen of the 18 players in the squad would go to Europe to try their luck as the reputation of Australian players continued to grow.

The most notabke players in this squad include Brett Emerton, Lucas Neill, Vince Grella and it must be noted that after participating in the qualifiers, Harry Kewell was withdrawn to focus on breaking into the Leeds first team.

Danny Milosevic had two stints in Europe. He first went to Germany from 1996 to 1998 and then England from 1999 to 2005.

Con Blatsis was in Turkey from 2000 to 2005.

Raphael Bove travelled around Europe, spending time in the Netherlands, Scotland and Italy from 1997 to 2001.

Hayden Foxe enjoyed a decade abroad in Germany, Japan and England from 1997 to 2007.

Michael Curcija had two season in Serbia and Portugal between 2000 and 2002.

Goalscoring sensation Kosta Salapasidis went to Spain, Switzerland and Greece between 1999 and 2002.

Tansel Baser enjoyed a good stint in Turkey from 1999 to 2006.

Mark Robertson spent his European adventure in England (1997-99) and Scotland (2000-06).

Danny Allsopp played in England from 1998 to 2005.

Peter Zois had almost a decade in Europe from 1997 to 2008. The UK and Holland is where he spent most of his career.

Total senior caps: 257

Nigeria 1999

A disappointing campaign for the Aussies who only finihed third in their group of the Republic of Ireland, Saudi Arabia and Mexico. They only picked up one win over the Saudis while suffering defeat at the hands of the Irish and Mexicans.

Despite the results, the Aussie momentum for players moving to Europe did not slow down. Brett Emerton and Vince Grella were returning members to the squad but an additional eleven of their teammates would also go abroad. Mark Bresciano, Mile Sterjovski, Jason Culina and Simon Colosimo amongst the more well-known players.

Lindsay Wilson left in 2002 until 2006 spending time in the Netherlands and Scotland.

Eddy Bosnar had a long career abroad which began in 2000. He played in many locations uch as Croatia, Austria, England and the Netherlands. He also spent some time in Japan and Korea.

John Maisano went abroad in 1997 playing in Italy, Belgium and Holland before a return home in 2000. He would return to Europe in 2002 when he went to Scotland until 2006.

Danny Invincible had a long career in Europe that started in 2000 and finished in 2013. He played in England, Scotland and Cyprus.

Joel Griffiths went to Europe in 2003 before returning in 2006. He spent his time in Switzerland and England.

Mark Byrnes had a couple of stints abroad. The first one was 2000-20002 and the second one was in 2004. His destinations were Austria, Italy and Finland.

Michael Turnbull had a season in Belgium with Standard Liege (2004/05).

Total senior caps: 357

Argentina 2001

Australia advanced to the Round of 16 by being one of the best third placed finishers. They picked up a win against Japan, a draw with Angola and suffered a defeat to the Czech Republic to finish third in Group D. They would get knocked out after a heavy 0-4 loss to Brazil which saw Adriano and Kaka get on the scoresheet.

Mark Byrnes and Michael Turnbull were returning members from the last tournament. A further thirteen of the expanded 19-member squad would try their luck in Europe. Scott McDonald, Luke Wilkshire, Josh Kennedy and Ljubo Milicevic were some of the more prominent names in this squad.

Six of the squad were already in Europe before this tournament.

Adrian Madaschi went over as a junior player in 1998 leaving Perth SC. He played in Europe until 2011.

Patrick Kisnorbo had almost a decade in Europe from 2003 to 2013. Although he played most of his career in England, he started in Scotland.

Wayne Srhoj was in Europe between 2004 and 2008.

Ahmed Elrich left in 2004 and returned in 2007.

Nick Carle did a bit of traveling in two stints. The first was 2002-2003 and the second was 2007 to 2010. He would play in France, Turkey and the UK.

Gareth Edds had over a decade in England (1997-2010).

Jess van Stratten spent 2001 to 2008 mostly with Verona in Italy although he was signed by Juventus.

Jon McKain‘s European career spanned from 2003 to 2008 playing In that time for two clubs in Romania.

Kevo Gulesserian had a short stint in 2004 in Armenia.

Total senior caps: 219

UAE 2003

Australia topped a group that included Brazil, Canada and the Czech Republic in the back of two victories over eventual champions Brazil and Canada. They lost to the hosts in the Round of 16, 0-1.

Scott McDonald was a returning player but other notable members of this group included Mile Jedinak, Carl Valeri and Alex Brosque.

The squads had once more been increased and now had 20 members. Altogether twelve of the young Aussies would find their way to Europe.

Nathan Coe had a decade in Europe from 2002 to 2012.

Steve Pantelidis spent 2003 in Denmark.

David Tarka had a couple of seasons in England from 2003 with Nottingham Forest.

Spase Dilevski has two stints from 2001 to 2005 with PSV and Tottenham. He returned to Europe from 2007 to 2011 to play in Romania.

Matt McKay left it late to go to Europe when he joined Glasgow Rangers for the 2011/12 season.

Anthony Danze tried his luck with Crystal Palace from 2004 to 2006.

Michael Baird has had two stints in Europe, both times in Romania. He first played there between 2006 and 2009 and then another season there in 2013.

Michael Thwaite spent time in Romania, Poland and Norway from 2004 to 2009 although some of the 2008/09 season was on loan to the Victory.

Total senior caps: 255

Netherlands 2005 

Once more the squad sizes were increased by one to now consist of 21 players. Australia were drawn with Benin, hosts Netherlands, and Japan. Two draws against the Africans and Asians and a loss to the Europeans meant we would finish bottom of the group.

Seven of the players were already in Europe and all of them were in England. Mark Milligan and Adam Federici were part of the 14 players in this grouo who would spend time in Europe with Spase Dilevski being a returning player from last tournament.

Danny Vukovic had a short stint in 2010 and then went back to Europe with Genk in 2017.

Trent McClenahan was abroad from 2002 to 2011.

Adrian Leijer spent 2007 to 2009 in England with Fulham and an on-loan stint with Norwich.

Chris Tadrosse had three years in Germany from 2005 to 2008.

Justin Pasfield had one season in Ireland (2004/05).

Aaron Downes played for fifteen years in England, mostly with Chesterfield. He retired in 2018.

Ryan Townsend spent 2004 with Burnley.

Ruben Zadkovich had two stints in England with Notts County (2004/06) and Derby (2008/10).

Nick Ward also had two shots in Europe. First he went to England for the 2006/07 season and then to Greece in 2011.

David Williams went to Denmark in 2006 before returning in 2010. He then moved to Hungary between 2016 and 2018.

James Wesolowski has spent his entire career in the UK since joining Leicester‘s academy in 2002 he’s now playing lower league football in England.

Total senior caps: 96

*Mark Milligan and Danny Vukovic are still active national team players.

Canada 2007

Australia did not qualify After being knocked out by South Korea in the 2006 AFC Youth Championship’s quarter finals.

Egypt 2009

Brazil, Czech Republic and Costa Rica awaited Australia in Group E. Australia would finish bottom of their group with three losses.

Eight of the 21-man squad would go over to Europe with six already there before the tournament.

Aaron Mooy, Tommy Oar and Ryan McGowan were members of this squad.

James Holland has had two runs in Europe first in Holland, Austria and Germany from 2009 to 2016. He is now back in Austria with LASK.

Chris Herd joined Aston Villa’s youth academy in 2005 and remained in the UK until 2017.

Kofi Danning had two years in Belgium from 2012 to 2014.

Dean Bouzanis is now on his second stint in Europe. First in England and Greece which also included a loan to Sydney FC. Now he’s on-loan to PEC Zwolle in Netherlands.

Alex Cisak had over a decade in England when he joined Leicester’s Academy in 2005. He returned to Australia in 2017.

Total senior caps: 103

Colombia 2011

Australia faced Spain, Ecuador and Costa Rica for the second straight tournament. They would finish bottom of the group with a draw against Ecuador being their only point.

Tommy Oar and Kofi Danning were returning members from last tournament. Five of the players were already with a club in Europe before the tournament.

Mark Birighitti went to Europe from 2015 to 2018.

Dykan McGowan had a couple of stints abroad. First in Scotland from 2008 to 2011 and then 2017 in Portugal.

Trent Sainsbury left Australia in 2014 and is currently playing in the Netherlands for PSV.

Marc Warren spent a couple of season in England and Scotland from 2011 to 2013.

Terry Antonis has been to Greece and the Netherlands. He first left in 2015 but is now back in Australia after leaving VVV-Venlo after one season.

Kerem Bulut has had a few sojourns over to Europe. The longest was his first time from 2010 to 2015 with Mladá Boleslav in Czech Republic before moving to Turkey. He then spent the 2015/16 season in Greece. from 2017 he’d go to Germany before returning once more to Turkey.

Mustafa Amini has been in Europe since joining Borussia Dortmund in 2011. He is now in Denmark.

Nick Feely spent a couple of years in Scotland from 2010 to 2012.

Matthew Fletcher had eight years in England after joining the Sunderland youth academy in 2008. He returned to Australia in 2016.

Corey Gameiro joined the Fulham youth team in 2011 but after some loan moves in England and the Netherlands he returned to Australia permanently in 2013.

Bernie Ibini-Isei moved to Europe in 2015 with Club Brugge. He spent a year on-loan back in Sydney before leaving in 2017.

*Matthew Leckie was named in the squad but was withdrawn by his Bundesliga side, Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Total senior caps: 77

Turkey 2013

Drawn in Group C with Colombia, host-nation Turkey and El Salvador, Australia would pick up just the one point in a draw with Colombia which saw the team finish bottom of the group.

Ten of the 21-member squad would try their luck in Europe with five doing so before the tournament. Jackson Irvine and Jamie Maclaren were amongst this group who would be the last to qualify for this tournament to-date.

Josh Brillante had a couple of seasons in Italy between 2014 and 2016.

Curtis Good spent a largely injury-plagued six years at Newcastle United. He went on loan to Bradford and Dundee United.

Ryan Williams has been in England since 2010 and is now with Rotherham United.

Adam Taggart had a couple of seasons with Fulham from 2014.

Jack Duncan spent the 2015/16 season in Denmark.

Reece Caira had theee seasons in Aston Villa’s youth academy from 2009 to 2012.

Ryan Edwards has been in England and Scotland since 2011 with a short loan back to Perth Glory.

Daniel De Silva tried his luck in the Netherlands with Roda JC between 2015 and 2017.

Total senior caps: 42

Adam Howard

Adam is one of the founders of Football Central and the creator of  He has followed the career paths of Australian footballers playing in leagues all over the world.  Born in Adelaide and currently residing in Hiroshima, Adam brings a unique perspective to Australian football.  He is an ardent supporter of Australia's domestic competition and national team.

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