It’s a feeling we’ve come to know so well from major tournaments over the years, but the Olyroos are out of the Tokyo Olympics after a bitterly disappointing 2-0 defeat to Egypt.
Needing a point to advance as Group C runners-up, the Olyroos instead found a willing opponent in an Egyptian side that suddenly sparked to life on a rain-soaked pitch in Rifu.
Having failed to score in either of their two previous group-stage encounters, Egypt looked the better of the two sides in the first half and took a deserved lead when Ramadan Sobhi got to the ball in front of a lumbering Harry Souttar before pulling it back for Ahmed Yasser Rayyan to smash home.
It was no less than Egypt deserved but it couldn’t have come at a worse time for Australia, who were less than a minute away from going into the half-time break locked at 0-0.
Instead Graham Arnold found himself a goal down and with an urgent need for his team to get on the front foot. Enter Daniel Arzani.
Having been dropped to the bench after starting the first two games, Arzani was the creative spark the Olyroos were crying out for.
Unfortunately the talented winger could find no way past Egypt’s veteran goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy, who got down well in the 55th-minute to turn Arzani’s skipping drive away.
A few minutes later Arzani twice played in Joel King, but the Sydney FC defender seemed to hesitate at the final moment and neither of his left-footed crosses amounted to anything.
And that, really, was the story of the night for the Olyroos. Try as they might they just couldn’t find the moment of quality they so desperately needed to break the game open.
Is that Arnie’s fault? He picked the players, but he wasn’t the one who failed to pick a pass.
The closest Australia came to scoring arrived with just over ten minutes to go in normal time, when Arzani ghosted between three defenders before launching an absolute rocket that looked destined for the top corner.
Yet again it was El Shenawy who tipped the goal-bound effort over the crossbar, and his save looked all the more impressive when Tom Glover failed to handle Nasser Mansi’s skidding shot and saw Egypt’s outstanding substitute Amar Hamdy tap home shortly after.
If it was cruel on Glover, who rarely seemed to have much to do throughout the group stage, it also summed up Australia’s inability to win the key moments in the match.
And it didn’t take long for the questions around Australia’s tactics to start mounting on social media, with former Socceroos goalkeeper and 1992 Olympian Mark Bosnich leading the charge.
So in the end the opening game was wasted,congratulations Egypt…just a small observation…setting up defensively against a team who hadn’t scored yet all tournament is a recipe for sowing seeds in ur players minds that ‘we cannot be our true selves’,-leads to doubt…xmb
— Mark Bosnich (@TheRealBozza) July 28, 2021
So did Arnie get his tactics right on the night? One of the first questions that started doing the rounds is why he waited until Australia trailed 1-0 to introduce Arzani alongside ball-playing midfielder Marco Tilio.
In Arnold’s defence, Tilio was a passenger in the first half, barely getting a touch of the ball while Egypt’s creative spark Ramadan ran riot.
But even when the fresh legs of Arzani offered more in front of goal than any of his teammates, it was still left to set pieces and Nick D’Agostino’s long throws to try and unlock Egypt’s defence.
Was it a mistake to set up so defensively against an opponent that needed all three points?
Was the decision to throw towering Crystal Palace defender Jay Rich-Baghuelou up front a sign of just how bereft our attacking options were?
And how badly did the suspensions of Nathaniel Atkinson, Riley McGree and Mitch Duke affect Australia’s chances?
I have some sympathy for Arnold. Everyone’s a critic the second you lose a big game.
But the questions will keep rolling in on the back of another deflating night for Aussie football.
Perhaps the most relevant one is this. Are you ‘Arnie in’ or ‘Arnie Out’ when it comes to him coaching our national teams?