The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: Olyroos Tokyo campaign

by Ben Somerford on Jul 29, 2021

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Graham Arnold labeled it the 'group of dreams' but after shocking the world the Olyroos came back to earth with a thud after back-to-back defeats leaving them with nightmares about what could’ve been.

Australia's first-up 2-0 win over Argentina grabbed plenty of attention, aided by its timing prior to the official commencement of the Olympics but also by the stature of the opponent's name, not so much the XI they actually fielded.

But that's not to denigrate an awesome win, however things turned awry soon after, despite looking on track for a shock quarter-finals berth with scores locked with less than 10 minutes to go against Spain.

Australia, though, are headed home early, as expected, but having offered more than anticipated. GGArmy's Ben Somerford looks at the Good, the Bad and the Ugly from the Olyroos campaign.

The Good
The Olyroos "shocked the world" with their opening 2-0 win over Argentina. Perhaps that was a generous over-reaction but it was a stunning shock and one worth celebrating. It was also deserved win too, with Connor Metcalfe and Denis Genreau exceptional in midfield, while Mitch Duke led the side up front, with Lachie Wales and Marco Tilio getting the goals.

It could've easily been more with Riley McGree too unselfish and careful when in on a two-on-one situation alongside Wales, while Duke hit the woodwork twice.

Daniel Arzani, who thrust his name into bright lights at the 2018 World Cup, sparkled at times throughout the campaign too, coming on with dazzling effect at half-time against Egypt. He probably should've started that game, but we'll get to that.

Thomas Deng and Harry Souttar were solid in their preferred roles, with the latter offering an aerial threat in attack, while Tom Glover warmed into the tournament after an unsteady start. Australia did only concede three goals in three games.

Up until the 80th minute at 0-0 against Spain things were looking good, with the Olyroos on four points from two games. Sadly, things turned sour fast to leave an unpleasant taste in the mouths.

The Bad
A lack of discipline cost Australia three key players for the third game against Egypt, which would ultimately be decisive, with Duke, McGree and Nathaniel Atkinson all unavailable after picking up two yellow cards earlier in the tournament. Call that naivety, especially from the latter, collecting a needless booking late against Spain.

Atkinson's absence against Egypt shifted Deng to right-back, with Kye Rowles starting centrally, and the Olyroos skipper was drawn out of position and caught out for pace for the Pharaohs' opening goal as Ramadan Sobhi darted down the left flank and byline, ghosting past Souttar, to set up Ahmed Yasser Rayan.

It's hard to criticize the side too much, given they were technically a level below most of their opponents. Australia played to a system and with a structure which gave them opportunities to score but left them vulnerable to their weaknesses and sadly that got exploited.

Spain missed plenty of chances in attack but made one moment count, when a Asensio pinpoint cross picked out Mikel Oyarzabal who was surrounded by Olyroos shirts.

The Ugly
Coach Graham Arnold had used an unchanged starting line-up for the opening two games, but was forced three changes for the final game, along with dropping the creative Arzani. Unfortunately, the tactics and mindset was all wrong for the opening half against Egypt, with the side clearly playing for a draw, which didn’t play to Australia's strengths.

A lot of criticism has been pointed at that decision by Arnold, but it originated from the 75th-minute mark onwards against Spain, the Olyroos seemed to deploy a similar tactics, trying to absorb pressure.

It did the opposite, as it allowed pressure which this side, given its flaws in comparison to their opponents, couldn't withstand.

Spain would eventually produce a world-class cross and a world-class glancing header. Arnold didn’t learn his lesson and Egypt were allowed to dominate in their front third too.

In the end the statistics narrowed (with 10-8 shots to Egypt and 51-49% possession to Australia) but the damage was done in the first half, with the Olyroos needing to chase the game and the result they needed to progress. Whether Arnold always planned to utilize Arzani at half-time for impact remains to be seen, but it was part of a shift of mindset that didn’t work.