Joeys success shows how far Aussie football has come

The Joeys have exceeded most expectations to reach the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup Round of 16 Source: FFA

The most important part of Australia not only qualifying, which was the first step, but also performing creditably at the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile in a tough group is that it increases the impetus for growth and improvement.

Since Australia chose to change our way of thinking about and playing football, it has been somewhat of a rocky ride in some respects.

Across both the male and female game, we have at times struggled to qualify and performances in World Cup competition have been mixed - but this is all part of the learning process.

It was never going to be easy.

Tell you what, though, it has been incredibly fast. Very few countries could change their entire view of the game, the processes underneath including coaching licences and the talented player pathways in just six, emotion filled and action packed years.

It is a phenomenal credit to our game in my view, that all of you were able to challenge your views on the game, put the grey matter to work in looking at football in a different way, commit to a far more challenging path and, despite the bumps along the way, maintain the rage for improvement and progress.

I’m not really surprised, because when Australians decide we want to be the best at something, the innovative thinking, the passion, the work ethic is exceptional and all these are present in the rise of a new Australian game.

I had the great pleasure of playing in the first ever FIFA U-16 World Cup in China in 1985, under the care of a lovely gentleman in Vic Dalgleish, and with a marvellous band of brothers such as Paul Trimboli, the Naven twins - Gareth and Craig - from Perth, George Josevski of Preston Macedonia and Marconi and David Barrett of Sydney Olympic (out of respect to the rest of our brothers, the squad is listed below) and in the intervening years came to understand the vast difference between playing only for results in youth competition and being able to achieve them in a defined style of play.

For instance, we beat both West Germany and Argentina - with Fernando Redondo strutting his stuff - and made the quarter-final at the first attempt and many junior Australian teams have had similar results and even improved on that, but these are much more difficult to achieve and far more valuable over the long term when playing in a proactive manner to develop players in a clear playing style.

Historically, only a few players will matriculate from this level from every country, as the U-20 age becomes a much clearer guide to those that will become full internationals but this group looks particularly strong.

Having worked with Joe Caletti, Jackson Bandiera and others, I know the qualities they have and their futures are very bright. Kye Rowles, Nicholas Panetta, Lucas Derrick, Panos Armenakas and Charlie Devereax are all very fine players who stood out in their own way.

As much as enabling our kids and young coaches to test themselves against the best, though, the tournament is also a major sales tool for change.

This is why it was so important that the coaching team led by Tony Vidmar and Ufuk Talay approached every game in the same manner philosophically speaking, because only then can we judge our progress, and only then can reaching the next tournament stage serve as a powerful sales moment to get more people onboard for alignment.

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We improved in counteracting the counter attack markedly after game one, credit to the coaching staff, however ball possession certainly needs work and the hope is to be able to create more goalscoring opportunities against Nigeria, though Australia's set pieces remain a significant strength.

Having aired every tournament in the past decade on SBS, I have seen major change in the Australian teams' approach and progress in how it is coming together but, having said this, we have a long way to go.

And whilst we can analyse every moment of the Joey’s performances, actually, this is not the most vital thing, rather that we are now stabilised in our intent to take every opponent on and to play in a manner befitting this brave country and, therefore, to learn at the maximum rate.

Sometimes, it's painful, other times it fills us with hope but, as long as the path remains clear, the eventual rewards are boundless.

So my best wishes for the match against Nigeria and, I’m sure not just from the first class of ’85 but every generation hence go to today's Joeys, creating lasting memories that you will all treasure and continuing the process of change.

Australia's 1985 FIFA U-16 World Championship squad:
Alfie Catalano
Anthony Grbac
Colin Cooper
Corrado Nobile
Craig Naven
Damien Butler
Craig Foster
David Barrett
David Scott
Gareth Naven
George Bouhoutsos
George Jolevski
Mark Talajich
Michael Graham
Paul Trimboli
Robert Runje
Scott Racey
Stan Thodis

Source SBS