George Blackwood scored a double as Australia commenced their AFC Under-23 Championships campaign with a 3-1 win over Syria in Group D in Kunshan, China.
The Adelaide United striker opened the scoring on eight minutes, before making it 3-1 to seal the deal in the 77th minute.
Bruce Kamau had made it 2-0 in the 43rd minute, before a Thomas Deng own goal in the 53rd minute kept the pressure on.
Australia scored twice in the first half in chilly Kunshan, where the temperature at kick-off hovered just above five degrees Celsius.
Blackwood netted the game’s opener when he superbly guided Daniel De Silva’s precise pass following Deng’s brilliant through-ball into the back of the net in the eighth minute of play.
Blackwood had a chance to claim his brace less than five minutes later as Australia crafted a similar chance, this time after a great combination between Nicholas Cowburn and De Silva.
Paul Izzo was called upon to keep Australia’s advantage in check when accurate cross into the box was met by Syrian attacker Mohamad Rafat Muhtadi, however Izzo brilliantly denied the Al Ittihad Aleppo attacker.
Australia dominated possession for large parts of the first 45 and duly doubled their lead shortly before the half time break.
A fluid move from defence to attack involving Cowburn, Brandon Wilson, Stefan Mauk, De Silva, and Milislav Popovic ended with Kamau nodding Popovic’s perfect pass beyond Syrian custodian Khaled Ibrahim.
Milicic made one change to his line-up for the start of the second stanza as Mariners attacker Trent Buhagiar replaced Kamau.
The Umina Eagles junior had an early chance in the second half to make it 3-0 to Australia, however his strike after Mauk’s pass was well saved by Ibrahim.
In the 54th minute the Qasioun Eagles reduced the deficit in the duel. A crisp cross into the area was inadvertently directed into Australia’s goal by Deng, who aside from this blemish produced a polished performance alongside Aleksandar Susnjar in the heart of Australia’s defence.
And while Izzo was forced into action twice as the clock wound down, ultimately Blackwood’s second goal of the encounter – which he scored in the 77th minute following strong work down the right by Buhagiar – ensured that Australia commenced their assault on the 2018 AFC U23 Championship in winning fashion.
Australia will take on Vietnam in their second Group D match on Sunday (14 January), before playing one of the tournament favourites, Korea Republic, next Wednesday (17 January).
A top two finish in Group D will be required for Australia to advance to the Quarter Finals on the competition.
Australia’s matches against Vietnam and Korea Republic will both be broadcast LIVE and EXCLUSIVE on FOX SPORTS.
Australia’s results at the 2018 AFC U23 Championship will impact the team’s seeding for the 2020 AFC U23 Championship, which will double as the qualification tournament for the 2020 Summer Olympics to be held in Tokyo, Japan.
Australia U23 3 (Blackwood 8’, 77’, Kamau 43’)
Syria U23 1 (Deng og 54’)
Venue: Kunshan Stadium, China
Referee: Khamis Al-Marri (Qatar)
Australia U23: 1. Paul IZZO (Gk), 2. Nicholas COWBURN, 5. Aleksandar SUSNJAR, 8. Stefan MAUK (C), 9. George BLACKWOOD, 11. Bruce KAMAU (7. Trent BUHAGIAR 46’), 13. Milislav POPOVIC (10. Ajdin HRUSTIC 57’), 17. Brandon WILSON, 20. Thomas DENG, 22. Daniel DE SILVA, 23. Benjamin GARUCCIO
Substitutes not used: 3. Alexander GERSBACH, 4. Jonathan ASPROPOTAMITIS, 6. Aiden O’NEILL, 12. Thomas GLOVER (Gk), 14. Riley MCGREE, 15. Keanu BACCUS, 16. Joseph CHAMPNESS, 18. Danijel NIZIC (Gk), 19. Deni JURIC, 21. Ruon TONGYIK
Yellow cards: Hrustic
Red cards: Nil