His Australian side fell one win short, but an assist, the captain’s armband and a maiden international goal told of a successful month for Tasmanian soccer starlet Nathaniel Atkinson.
A bystander for the Young Socceroos’ pre-qualifiers a year ago, Atkinson’s rise up the national ranks was highlighted by his selection in October as vice-captain for the Asian Football Confederation under-19 championships in Indonesia.
After playing the full 90 minutes in a 1-1 draw with South Korea, Atkinson was handed the armband for the Socceroos’ second group match when Ajax youngster Sebastian Pasquali went down with gastro.
The 19-year-old provided the assist for the sealer in a 2-1 win, but missed the third and final group match when he too fell ill.
Having recovered to play the quarter-final against eventual winner Saudi Arabia – a virtual play-off for a ticket to the under-20 World Cup – Atkinson and the Socceroos went down 3-1, but not before he celebrated an “emotional” equaliser on the stroke of half time.
Reflecting on his first taste of international football, Atkinson conceded a lot had happened in a year.
“I always thought that I could make something of myself but it’s happened fairly quickly, I’m still only 19 and I’m getting these opportunities to play representative football and represent my country,” he said.
“As a young kid you always want to play for your country and I’m lucky to do that and now the next steps are either the under-23s or Socceroos.
“There were two vice-captains named (for the championships) - me and Tass (Mourdoukoutas) - but it could have been anyone really, I’m just so grateful for the opportunity to captain that second game.
“When I found out I messaged my mum and my nan and they were very proud, it was a very proud moment for me.”
Having returned from Indonesia last week, the former Riverside Olympic talent has turned his focus to his sophomore A-League season, where he will look to improve on the 17 appearances he made last year.
He and fellow City young guns Connor Metcalfe, James Delianov, Moudi Najjar and Ramy Najjarine mightn’t have achieved their goal of World Cup qualification, but have returned to AAMI Park more experienced than when they left.
“The goal was to make the World Cup, that’s where everyone wants to be and unfortunately we didn’t do that but Asian football is a lot different,” Atkinson said.
“They go down a lot easier, they look for free kicks, they look for this, they look for that.
“They want to slow down the game and if they get a goal ahead they’ll fight for their lives to keep that one goal lead, and also the referees over there are a lot different.
“As a lot of people say, international football is unforgiving - if you’re not fully up for it on the day, if you’re not 100 per cent sharp and make a mistake you can be punished very easily.
“It’s a lot different to club football but there’s nothing like playing for your country - trying to do your best and make your country proud.”