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A 2-0 win over Argentina! Is that Arnie's best-ever result?

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22nd July, 2021
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Maybe Australia would have won the Copa America after all? It feels like the sky’s the limit after the Olyroos shocked the football world to beat Argentina 2-0 at the Tokyo Olympics.

Was that the best performance Graham Arnold has ever conjured as coach of a national team? The gruff tactician silenced his critics – for one night at least – as the Olyroos turned in a superb performance to down Argentina 2-0 under the roof of the Sapporo Dome.

Surely the best thing about the result was the fact it was no smash and grab raid. Australia had fashioned a few chances even before Lachie Wales side-footed home Joel King’s cross.

And Wales, who was originally named in the train-on squad and never expected to actually play in Japan, was only one of several players to turn in an absolute stormer in Sapporo.

The Olyroos haven’t featured in the Olympics since Beijing in 2008, which is perhaps why they raced out of the blocks and put Argentina on the back foot from the get-go.

Daniel Arzani looked the main threat early on but it was King who busted the game open, as the Sydney FC defender took a raking free-kick from Harry Souttar and crossed for Wales to bundle home at the far post.

Daniel Arzani

Daniel Arzani (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

The towering Souttar was immense alongside skipper Tommy Deng in central defence, while King and Nathaniel Atkinson buzzed relentlessly up and down their respective touchlines as Australia’s back four turned in a Herculean performance.

They got a bit lucky when Ezequiel Barco’s attempted cross caught goalkeeper Tom Glover off-guard and clipped the top of the crossbar, but what really changed the momentum of the game was Francisco Ortega’s dismissal on the stroke of halftime.

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Referee Srdjan Jovanovic had his work cut out for him in a game that produced a staggering 12 yellow cards, but the Serb will be raked over the coals for his decision to send Ortega off in first-half stoppage time.

The defender was deservedly booked for a foul on Atkinson near the corner-flag with 45 minutes having already ticked by on the clock. But just as the free-kick was about to swing in, Argentina goalkeeper Jeremias Ledesma appeared to push Ortega straight into Riley McGree.

The Aussie midfielder, who was barely touched in the incident let alone the instigator, was duly booked by Jovanovic. Yet the Serbian referee then brandished the yellow card in Ortega’s direction, only then seeming to realise he’d just booked the defender barely 60 seconds earlier.

It was a clear mistake – and one the Olyroos benefited from immensely.

But even if the Aussies were fortunate to play against ten men for the entirety of the second half, they still managed to kill the game off.

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One of the best things about last night’s performance was the sheer number of chances the Olyroos created. It was a standard of attacking football we haven’t seen from an Australian side for years.

The inclusion of Mitch Duke looks like an absolute masterstroke from Arnold, after the squad’s only over-age player turned in a tireless shift up front.

Duke might have miscued the attempt that led to Wales opening the scoring, but he attracted two defenders in doing so and then set up substitute Marco Tilio to blast home Australia’s second goal.

Duke also clipped the woodwork twice, while Riley McGree and the surprisingly effective Wales also created several good opportunities.

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If there was one downside on the night it was the form of Arzani. The left winger looked well up for it at the start, but too often the perennially on loan attacker appeared to second-guess himself.

But that’s a minor complaint.

The Olyroos are top of Group C and staring down at heavyweights Spain, who they’ll face at the Sapporo Dome on Sunday night.

Graham Arnold’s men have got us all dreaming again.

After a magical night when so many A-League players stood up, the Olyroos have just reminded us that maybe football in Australia isn’t so bad after all.

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