Three Burning Questions: Olyroos at the Tokyo Olympics

by Ben Somerford on Jul 21, 2021

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For the first time since the 2008 Beijing Games, the Olyroos will feature at the Olympics although we've been drawn in a tough group (according to who you ask) with Argentina, Spain and Egypt.

Olyroos coach Graham Arnold has a tough job on his hands, particularly with only of seven of the 22 players who helped the side qualify, way back in January 2020, being part of the final squad.

Australia's 2-0 loss to New Zealand last week in their Olympics warm-up, followed by a 1-0 win won't offer huge encouragement ahead of Thursday's opening game against Argentina (8:30pm AEST).

GGArmy's Ben Somerford performed a deep dive on the squad and asked three burning questions ahead of the Olyroos campaign.

How will Arnie play this?
Arnold has already been active in the media trying to spin the Olyroos' nightmare draw as the "group of dreams". He's likely doing that to convince his players that they have nothing to fear, but it would be naïve if that optimism translated to his tactics against the quality of opposition.

In my opinion, he showed his hand slightly with a defensive line-up for the 2-0 warm-up loss against New Zealand. The transient nature of the Olyroos' squad means it's hard to get a good read on likely line-ups and tactics, but expect a back five against Argentina.

Arguably the strongest area of the Olyroos' squad is the back duo of Stoke City's Harry Souttar, who has attracted Premier League interest, alongside captain Thomas Deng, who plays in Japan. They will provide a strong foundation, with the likes of Nathaniel Atkinson, Kye Rowles and Jay Rich-Baghuelou too.

But this is where Arnold will earn his money. He's backed in midfielders Connor Metcalfe, Riley McGree and Denis Genreau with senior call-ups in recent times and they'll be critical in the engine room to ensure the Olyroos aren't simply a parked bus waiting for oncoming traffic for 90 minutes, as that will not work.

The side's over-age player Mitch Duke is a forward who can hold up play up front, while Daniel Arzani has the pace, and hopefully the personal agenda, to feed off him.

Can Arzani use the Olympics to re-launch his career?
Three years in Russia, Arzani thrust his name up in lights with some scintillating displays off the bench for the Socceroos at the World Cup. He's since suffered a cruel ACL injury and had some unwise career moves, essentially leaving his rising career on a path of stagnation.

Arzani, now 22, has only managed 15 first-team appearances at club level since the World Cup but he has been finding some continuity within the Olyroos set-up in recent weeks. That bodes well for an outstanding talent, who is still on Manchester City's books. The reality is the world is still at his feet, if he can re-discover what made him the exciting talent he was in 2018.

The Olympics aren’t exactly the scouting stage that other major football events are, but it is a platform. Others may see that opportunity too, such as Southampton's Caleb Watts or free agent Nick D'Agostino. Arnold can use that motivating factor to his advantage.

Can the Olyroos actually progress or even get a medal?
In short, both would be very unlikely. Australia's draw with Spain, Argentina and Egypt is not favourable at all. Nor is the Olyroos' form, losing four in a row before the 1-0 win over New Zealand in Ichibara. It is hard to be enthused.

There's no Mohamed Salah for Egypt or Lionel Messi for Argentina, so Arnold's angle is understandable. But the pedigree of the Spanish and Argentine squads is mighty intimidating. Spain, for example, have included Euro 2020 players Pedri, Dani Olmo and Pau Torres, to name a few.

In the past, Australia have punched above their weight division at under-age level but the Olyroos haven’t made the Olympics since 2008. Expectations need to be managed.