The Olyroos have ended twelve years of Olympic exile defeating Uzbekistan 1-0 in the third place play-off of the 2020 AFC U-23 Championships to claim the final Asian qualifying place for Tokyo 2020.
A well-taken goal just after half-time from Nicholas D’Agostino settled the game and not long after the celebrations started in earnest. The World Game learned five things from a big night for Australian football.
History beckons for Arnold
If Graham Arnold allowed himself a drink or two in Bangkok on Saturday evening then he can be forgiven. He will be a happy man and rightly so. How long can you call a team the Olyroos when they are not qualifying for the Olympics? A first appearance since 2008 will go down very well at FFA and in all football circles.
The former assistant who looked out of his depth in his first stint, which started 14 years ago, could well be the man to lead Australia to the World Cup as well as the Olympics. That would be an impressive achievement.
It wasn’t always pretty, in fact it rarely was, but these young players have a major international football tournament to look forward to and it could be a vital one.
Arnold would have come in for fierce criticism had the team failed so he deserves the praise when it didn’t.
Australia were Australia and Uzbekistan were Uzbekistan
It was, in some ways, a performance that summed up the tournament for Australia. It was often a little sluggish --though it is understandable that both teams were tired with games coming thick and fast-- and there was little in the way of creativity, ideas or chances. There were however, plenty of hard work and determination sprinkled with just enough moments of class to see the team through and they managed to somehow win the game without playing very well. It is an under-rated skill.
How Uzbekistan wish they had something similar. The Central Asians, so desperate to appear at a first major international tournament, had more of the play and the chances but when the pressure was on, failed to deliver. Something similar happened in the semi-final loss to Saudi Arabia.
D’Agostino makes the difference
It was always likely that one moment of quality would do the job and it came just after half-time.
When Nicholas D’Agostino picked up the ball just inside the Uzbekistan half, there wasn’t that much on.
So he started running towards the goal and attacked the Uzbek defence. Gliding past three defenders, he found himself on the edge of the area and then found the net with a fine low shot.
It was an excellent goal from the Perth Glory man and one worthy of sending the team to the Olympics and who knows, perhaps it could become a turning point in the careers of some of these youngsters as well as a famous moment in the history of Australian football.
Asia's chokers choke again
When it comes to qualifying for major international tournaments, Uzbekistan just can’t quite do it. They should have made the World Cup in 2006, 2014 and 2018 but stumbled at the last hurdle. They should have defeated Saudi Arabia in the semi-final but just could not put one of their many chances away. The talent has always been there but an element has been missing, call it mental strength, ruthlessness or something else.
It was hoped that the new generation would be different but sitting at home and watching on television as other Asian teams perform in major international tournament is becoming an Uzbek tradition. Nobody quite knows why the White Wolves can’t quite take that final step but the reputation as the continent’s chokers is stronger than ever.
Qualification should inspire greater efforts
Once the celebrations die down and everyone returns home there should be a few lessons to keep in mind but there should also be a determination from these players to make sure they make the plane to Tokyo.
It would be painful indeed if some of those who worked so hard in Thailand don’t reap those rewards in Japan. Those who play in the A-League need to show what they can do as much as possible. Those who are on the fringes need to show the coaches that they deserve more minutes. There could be no better motivation for the rest of the season.