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Tombides gets Versleijen backing

16 June 2011-SBS EXCLUSIVE

Tombides 'has the talent'... Big things are expected of the young Hammers forward.

Australia youth coach Jan Versleijen is convinced young West Ham United striker Dylan Tombides can emerge from the FIFA U-17 World Cup and forge a top-flight career in much the same way as former Australia youth stars Scott McDonald and Josh Kennedy.

The little and large of Australian football were both products of Australia's 1999 campaign, starring for the Joeys as they went all the way to the final in Auckland before losing to three-time champion Brazil on a penalty shoot-out.

At that time neither had an overseas club, with McDonald joining Southampton and finally Celtic and Middlesbrough, while Kennedy graduated to the Bundesliga before moving to his current home in Japan with Nagoya Grampus.

Already tipped for a stellar career by West Ham, which has just been relegated to England's second tier Championship, Tombides made a big impression for the Joeys in Tuesday's 2-1 pre-tournament win over Canada in Pachuca, Mexico.

He scored the winner and had a delighted Versleijen serving up superlatives afterwards, with the coach expecting Tombides to further underline his budding talent in the final warm-up clash against Uruguay on Thursday.

Tombides is looming as a key weapon for Australia in clashes against Cote d'Ivoire (21 June), mighty Brazil (24 June) and Denmark (27 June) in what has been dubbed the group of death.

"He is a very technical player, who also knows how to use his body to great effect," Versleijen told The World Game from Mexico.

Born in Perth but raised in Hong Kong, West Ham's Academy Player of the Year was named among the substitutes for the Hammers final game of the 2010-2011 Premier League campaign and has been described by reserve team boss Kevin Keen as a future 'star' for the club.

"He has all the tools at his disposal and he absolutely has the talent to go very far in the game. But at the age of 17 it is hard to say whether they will make that next step," added Versleijen. "A lot of it is hard work, opportunity and being at the right club at the right time. For him, he is at a club which clearly recognises his quality and that is a good thing.

"They are also keen to give him an opportunity to develop. He needs to be playing regularly at a good level to progress."

Versleijen, though, is careful not to heap too much expectation on a player who remains far from the finished article, adding: "It doesn't do players any favours to label them as the next great thing. It's important to keep things in proportion.

"You have to remember that at the age of 16, Pele was in Brazil's first team at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden which they won and where he was a star. That is when you can say, 'yes you are ready'. But with players like Dylan it's a question of helping them build on their potential ... which they certainly have.”

Versleijen was also impressed with Australian Institute of Sport winger Hernan Espindola, whose pace and trickery gave Canada problems, with Perth Glory recruit Jesse Makarounas also catching the eye up front in tandem with Tombides. The rising rookie, who like Tombides hails from WA, also got on the scoresheet.

"He has just signed with Perth after graduating from the AIS and I also like the look of him," added the coach.

The Joeys switch to their training base at Guadalajara, after their final warm-up against a wily and efficient Uruguay.

Versleijen is reluctant to talk up Australia's prospect in a challenging group, explaining:  "It (Canada) was our first international game since November last year. So it is difficult to assess what level we are at.

"I think I will know a little bit more after the Uruguay game. They will ask a lot a lot of questions of us. Playing at altitude has added another dimension. You have to adapt your game accordingly and the ball is doing some strange things in the air as well."

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