Olyroos building for grandstand finish, says Italiano


Young gun Jacob Italiano believes Australia are simmering nicely at the AFC U-23 Championship in Thailand, and are on course to come to the boil in the knock-out phase.

With a top-three finish needed to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Games, Graham Arnold’s Olyroos top Group A with four points going into Tuesday’s final group clash against bottom team Bahrain.

Should they maintain their dominance in the group, they are likely to face either Syria or Saudi Arabia in Saturday’s quarter-final, with Tokyo just over the rainbow from there.

While impressing only fitfully in the opening 1-1 draw with Iraq and subsequent 2-1 victory over the host nation, Borussia Monchengladbach's Aussie import Italiano - who is just 18 - sees his Olyroos side moving in an upward arc.

“The first match wasn’t the best performance but we ground out a point and, as you see in a lot of tournaments, the opening game is the one where you gain a bit of momentum,” he said.

“Against the Thais the first half wasn’t great for us but we grew into the game, and showed our class in the second half where we dominated. I think we deserved the points.

“The focus now is to build up from there. We’re very happy with the position we’re in and whilst every challenge is difficult in Asia our end goal is to win the competition.

“We all believe we can succeed here. We’ve come together as a group from all over the world and it takes time to gel.

“But we’re building now and taking it step by step.”

The youngest member of the Olyroos squad has hit the ground running since arriving at the Bundesliga club - once home to Socceroo Mathew Leckie - from Perth Glory in June.

He made several senior appearances during the pre-season, scoring a maiden goal along the way, and earned accolades from sporting director Max Eberl.

The winger has already made 13 appearances for Gladbach’s second string - who play in Germany’s fourth tier - scoring twice.

The expectation is he will likely win some senior match minutes again as the season unfolds, and Italiano believes what he’s learned in six months in Europe has already enriched his game.

“I feel fit and I feel strong and in Germany that’s a must,” he added. “That’s definitely helped me coming into this tournament.

“I started well during the pre-season, making a few first team appearances and it was good for make that first impression.

“But it’s now that the real hard work starts where you try to maintain and to push on.

“Right now everything is focused on this camp in Thailand, and if I can perform well here I can take that back to the club.”

Italiano came off the bench against Iraq, adding much needed zip, urgency and unpredictability, and he was rewarded with a start against Thailand.

“It’s my job as a winger to attack and create things and to try and make a difference in matches,” he added.

“Hopefully that’s the way it works out but either way we win or lose as a team.

“We’re all here to achieve a massive goal of going to the Olympics.

“We all believe in what we can do.”