Milligan seals Qantas Under 23 win
Qantas Under 23 captain Mark Milligan has secured a vital win for Australia, in its Olympic qualifying match against DPR Korea at EnergyAustralia Stadium in Newcastle.
The Qantas Under 23-s have scored a vital 1-0 win over DPR Korea at EnergyAustralia Stadium tonight, with Mark Milligan-s second half header securing three points that may well prove crucial to Australia-s chances of qualification for the 2008 Olympic Games.
Australia-s first win of the final stage of qualification for next year-s showpiece event in Beijing sees them occupy the all-important first place in their four-team group, albeit with one match to play to complete the round between Lebanon and Iraq later this evening.
The Qantas Under 23-s must top their group to secure one of Asia-s three berths in Beijing, and, having recorded a win from their first home match of this final qualification stage, are well on track to secure their sixth consecutive Olympic Games appearance.
Despite exuding overwhelming relief, Qantas Under 23-s coach Graham Arnold lamented a lack of clinical nous in the Australians attacking third after the match, having witnessed several prime opportunities for his side to extend upon their lead go begging in the closing stages.
"I was happy, but not happy with the final third," said Arnold after the match.
"The boys carried out the game plan great - from the front to the back we were very, very good.
"But, in international football, when you have three or four occasions where it-s three against one and you blow them every time, you can end up getting punished.
"That-s the downside of it; the good side of it is that we-re a very disciplined group of players that obviously play with a lot of passion."
DPR Korea-s backline had been breached only four times in seven qualifying matches prior to tonight-s encounter, and it was evident from the opening whistle that Graham Arnold-s charges would not have it easy.
Though the visitors defence was tested with consistency by Australia-s sleek looking attacking brigade, the scoreboard read 0-0 at the break, with Ruben Zadkovich-s long range effort midway through the opening stanza the highlight of a half dominated by the home side.
The Sydney FC flyer was on the end of a delightful attacking advance involving Mark Bridge and Nick Ward - his left footed drive from the edge of the penalty area forcing a save from DPR Korea custodian Myong Guk Ri.
Zadkovich-s effort was just one of a host of half chances created by the Australians, whose movement and efficient passing, largely dictated by midfield standout Kristian Sarkies, was a treat to watch throughout.
With Bridge and strike partner David Williams offering pace in abundance up front, a trait also shared by Qantas Under 23-s debutant and attacking midfielder Billy Celeski, Australia always loomed most likely to net the match opener.
That they did, only minutes into the second half.
After seeing a desperate goal line clearance from Chol Jun Pak deny Bridge a goal on his Hyundai A-League home ground, it was the Socceroos- Asian Cup standout Milligan that broke the deadlock just one minute later.
Captain Milligan evaded the attention of the DPR Korea defence at the far post to head home a trademark corner from Sarkies to hand the home side a lead they richly deserved, and maintained despite some noteworthy pressure from the visitors until the final whistle.
"We-ve got four points from six, which is a great start, Lebanon on Wednesday is going to be difficult as they-ve got a lot of travel to do," said Arnold.
"We-ve got to make sure we do all the things right now in terms of recovery and get ready for the game."
The Qantas Under 23-s quest for qualification for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing continues next Wednesday, 12 September, when they take on Lebanon at Bluetongue Stadium. Kick off is at 7pm.
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Australia 1 (Mark Milligan 49') DPR Korea 0
Australia team: 1. Danny Vukovic (gk), 2. Ruben Zadkovich, 3. Adrian Leijer, 4. Mark Milligan, 6. Stuart Musialik, 7. Kristian Sarkies, 9. Mark Bridge, 15. Nick Ward (11. Bruce Djite 64-), 19. David Williams (39. David Micevski 74-), 20. Nikolai Topor-Stanley, 22. Billy Celeski (16. Leigh Broxham 89-)
Unused Subs 13. Trent McClenahan, 17. Aaron Downes, 18. Tando Velaphi (gk), 27. Ersun Gulum
Yellow Cards: Leijer 74- Red Cards: None
Referee: Hiroyoshi Takayama (Japan)