The Olyroos may have reached Tokyo 2020 with all the finesse of Eric the Eel, but there’s no doubt their qualification is a huge achievement and a major boost for Australian football.
Third place never felt so sweet!
Congratulations to Graham Arnold and the Olyroos on their 1-0 win over Uzbekistan in Bangkok, which saw Australia’s under-23 national team book the third and final Asian place on offer for a spot at this year’s Olympic Games in Japan.
Having failed to qualify for the last two Olympics in a row, Australia’s underage men’s side sealed their place with the nerviest of victories at Rajamangala Stadium in the Thai capital.
They needed a superb solo goal from Nick D’Agostino to do so, while a red card to Uzbek substitute Oybek Bozoro – who had only been on the pitch for six minutes – no doubt aided the cause.
Even then, the Olyroos were still under the pump for much of the second half, as reflected by Fox Sports’ co-commentator Mark Bosnich’s increasingly nerve-addled call of the game.
The 1992 Olympian rode every pass and tackle alongside Brenton Speed in commentary, and Bozza was no doubt as relieved as the rest of us when referee Mohammed Hassan blew the full-time whistle.
And D’Agostino’s wonder strike just two minutes after half-time deserves a special mention.
The moment the Olyroos became the Olympic-roos ???? pic.twitter.com/NuaPu7j8DE
— FOX Sports Football (@FOXFOOTBALL) January 25, 2020
Released by an intelligent ball forward from Zach Duncan, the Perth Glory attacker glided between no less than three defenders before opening up his body and side-footing an unerring strike into the bottom corner.
It was a fitting reward for D’Agostino’s willingness to take possession and drive into an attacking area, and after a brace in the group stage against host nation Thailand, it was also the Glory youngster’s third goal of the AFC U-23 Championship campaign.
And it was all achieved despite D’Agostino getting just 14 minutes of game time – in a solitary outing off the bench – in the A-League this season.
It’s a point that has raised more than a few questions about the purpose of the A-League, and whether our youngsters are getting enough game time.
It was Arnold himself who said in 2018 he “didn’t know the A-League was a development league”.
And many of the statistics around the use of young players like D’Agostino suggest that it’s not. Should it be?
When three A-League coaches are sacked in quick succession, it’s hard to argue the competition isn’t very much a results-driven enterprise.
D’Agostino left Brisbane in June in search of more first-team football, and a few Roar fans have had their noses out of joint after Robbie Fowler recently signed Corey Brown and Scott McDonald.
The consensus is that Brown and McDonald are keeping younger players out of the team, however the reality is that both Jordan Courtney-Perkins and Mirza Muratovic have both had chances so far this season.
Courtney-Perkins got absolutely rinsed by Sydney FC in a 5-1 defeat earlier in the season, while Muratovic was practically invisible in his two most recent outings.
Should Fowler have persisted with the pair – and potentially risked his job – for the sake of their development?
It’s a delicate balancing act, and one that becomes all the more complicated when you remember that not only will the Olyroos squad have to be trimmed to just 18 players for the Olympics, but Arnold will also have three overage players at his disposal.
Which overage players should he pick? And what happens with Riley McGree – who missed the tournament in Thailand through an FFA-imposed suspension?
And what of Arnold’s pre-tournament claim that he might simply take the Olyroos to the Copa America in June as a warm-up for the Olympics?
There’s much to consider ahead of a bumper year of international football for Australia.
But one thing is certain: qualifying for the Olympics for the first time since 2008 is a major accomplishment, and one that is definitely worth celebrating.