Australia may have unearthed an uncut gem in attacker Reno Piscopo to add lustre to their hopes of successfully plotting a path to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
That’s the verdict of former Socceroo turned Malaysia Under-23’s assistant coach Brad Maloney, after the “Arzani-like” 20-year-old conjured a commanding performance for the Olyroos against his team in their final warm-up before the looming AFC Under-23 Championship qualifiers in Cambodia.
Darting and dangerous, the diminutive Melbourne-born former Inter Milan junior was the Olyroos’ standout as they were held 1-1 by the Malaysians in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday night.
And Maloney, who pitted his wits against Graham Arnold alongside head coach Ong Kim Swee, was impressed with what he saw from his compatriots - particularly the unorthodox Piscopo, who plays in Italy’s third tier with Renate.
“He poses us plenty of problems, particularly in the first half,” Maloney said.
“He was very busy and very dangerous. He’s a strong, speedy player who makes a lot of positive forward runs.
“It was the first time I’d seen him in the flesh and I liked what I saw.”
Arnold dubbed Piscopo as “Arzani-like” earlier in the week, in a direct comparison with the Celtic-based phenomenon on whose young shoulders so many hopes rest.
Maloney was also impressed by Melbourne City’s Riley McGree, who skippered the Olyroos and looked calm and assured in midfield, as well as Newcastle Jets flier Joey Champness.
Also watching on at the Shah Alam Stadium was Arnold’s one-time Socceroos World Cup mentor Guus Hiddink, who is charge of China’s Olympic team.
“Australia played some good football and created a lot of chances,” Maloney said.
“They really could’ve put us away but unfortunately for them they couldn’t convert.
“There are plenty of positives as far as they’re concerned.
“They just perhaps need to be a bit more clinical in front of goal. There’s a lot of upside for this team.
“I like the quality of the team, it’s just a matter of them enacting the game plan that Arnie wants to employ.”
Australia face searing heat and humidity, a second-rate plastic pitch and hosts Cambodia, Korea Republic and Chinese Taipei in Phnom Penh in the coming 10 days, needing to finish top of their group to ensure reaching January’s final phase of qualifying in Thailand.
The four best placed runners-up from the 11 groups also go through, leaving the Olyroos very little margin for error.
Maloney, who made his Socceroos debut when Arnold was Frank Farina’s number two with the national team, believes he has prepared as well as logistically possible for what lies ahead.
“Arnie’s had the team for a week in Malaysia, training every day in the heat and sometimes there have been double sessions,” he said.
“You saw with (eight changes) the other night he’s tried to get as many minutes into the players’ legs as possible prior to the tournament.
“We were a bit fortunate to score the equaliser in injury time at the end there.”
The Malaysians, who face Hiddink’s China next week in the own qualifying group for Tokyo, trailed to a thumping header from Perth Glory defender Brandon Wilson five minutes after the break, in a game Australia should have closed out.
“I really support Arnie’s view in getting a team together in good time to prepare, rather than going to the tournament cold,” Maloney said.
“I can see Australia have good quality players.
“There are a few from abroad in Europe and plenty from the A-League and you need time together to gel and acclimatize to the conditions in south-east Asia.
“Arnie is playing the typical type of Australian game. When they are in tight areas they’re good at switching the play quickly.
“When they lose possession they close down quickly and they look sharp and physically strong.
“I like the way they’re playing and I like the approach that he has got.”