Having been part of a talented Young Socceroos squad when he was a player, coach Paul Okon believes the current crop can match those heroics at the Under-20 World Cup
Paul Okon has backed his Young Socceroos squad to match Australia's best-ever results at the Fifa Under-20 World Cup and reach the semi-finals in Turkey.
Okon was part of the Young Socceroos side that reached the semi-finals in Portugal in 1991 alongside the likes of Mark Bosnich, Kevin Muscat and Tony Popovic and will coach the current generation at the 2013 edition, beginning on Friday.
While he raised eyebrows with the omission of Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder Mustafa Amini, Okon remains convinced he has picked a squad with enough senior experience to match the best in Turkey.
The Young Socceroos will face Colombia, El Salvador and the host nation in Group C, and Okon has told his players that he believes they are good enough to not only advance to the knockout stages but to also match the fourth-placed finishes of Australia's teams in 1991 and 1993.
"I feel that this group is just as that group that did so well in Portugal and the players are aware of that and hopefully they can emulate that side," Okon told Goal Australia from the team's base in Turkey.
Okon refused to answer any questions regarding Amini's omission from his squad, with the 20-year-old former Central Coast Mariners playmaker subsequently lashing out in the media over allegations he was not fit.
But having picked 16 players from A-League clubs in his squad of 21, Okon made it clear senior football experience was critical in his selection.
"No selection was based on anything other than the ability of the player and the fact that they were able to play as much senior football as possible, whether it was done overseas or in Australia, and that was the message that was given to the players after our qualifiers in the UAE," Okon said.
"The challenge was, 'Go back to your clubs and play as much senior football as possible, because we're going to a World Cup and we need you all to be doing that'.
"Nearly every player who is home-based [in Australia] managed to do that this season, some obviously more than others, but that was a real criteria that we tried to stick by.
"You know, the A-League is a professional competition, it's a serious competition, a very good competition and it offers the opportunity for young players to get a go.
"So, why would you not take the opportunity to play A-League, senior football against men, as opposed to Under 19 or reserve-team football in Europe?"
In their three warm-up matches in the lead-up to the 2013 tournament, Okon believes his current team have played "magnificently".
During a European training tour in May, the Young Socceroos took on the Under-21 sides of the Netherlands and Germany, losing 3-1 and drawing 2-2 respectively.
They then thumped New Zealand 5-0 in Wollongong on June 10 before heading to Turkey.
"Their performances have been very good," Okon said.