Powerhouses, Salah, but no pressure wait for Olyroos in Tokyo

Egypt's Mohamed Salah, Spain's Sergio Ramos and Argentina's Lautaro Martinez. Source: Getty Images

The Group of Death is such a cliche that its use is banned in some media organisations, but few would argue against it being applied in Australia's first appearance at the Olympics since 2008.

Coach Graham Arnold will look at South Korea’s match-up with Honduras, Romania and New Zealand and then cast his gaze back to his own Group C with Spain, Egypt and Argentina --the champions of Europe, Africa and South America --with an eyebrow or two raised.

While Korea’s group is easier, playing the best on the world stage is what international tournaments are all about. It goes without saying that the Olyroos will have to be at their best to get into the quarter-finals for the first time since 2004.

EGYPT

The African champions will treat the tournament with the utmost seriousness. It is possible that a certain Mohamed Salah will be running at the Australian backline. According to reports in Egypt, the Liverpool star wants to play and the Young Pharaohs will definitely want to call him as an one of three overage players.

"We sent a message to Liverpool management to announce our willingness to call Salah to Tokyo, they replied saying that they will discuss the situation with the player," Ahmed Megahed, currently in charge of the Egyptian FA said earlier this month. “I can say that Salah wants to play at the Olympic Games, he wants to help Egypt, and I hope Liverpool will say yes."

If Salah goes then he could be joined by Ahmed Hegazi, the defender who left West Bromich Albion against then-coach Slaven Bilic’s wishes in October and who has been perhaps the best player in Saudi Arabia since. Such experience will be needed with the rest of the squad lacking a little on the international stage though given the team’s last game was a win over Brazil, perhaps that won’t be a major issue.

SPAIN

While the name of Spain may strike fear into the heart, their Olympic record has been poor in recent years. After winning gold on home soil in Barcelona in 1992 and silver eight years later in Sydney there has been just one appearance, in London in 2012,that finished winless.

But then they are the European champions and there is a wealth of choice when it comes to overage players with the likes of Sergio Ramos and Jordi Alba being considered. There may be resistance from clubs after a hectic domestic season however. Even without such experience there is plenty of young talent as you would expect with La Rojita.

Ansu Fati is just 18 but the Barcelona forward has already played for the senior team. So has Ferran Torres, the exciting winger who joined Manchester City for around $36 million last year. Club colleague Eric Garcia is a talented 20 year-old centre-back who could also get the call. And then there is attacking midfielder and RB Leipzig star Dani Olmo, one of the stars of that U-21 winning team.

ARGENTINA

Two-time gold medallist Argentina topped Australia’s group in Beijing and went on to take centre spot in the podium for the second successive games and will provide a major blue and white obstacle this time around. Winning the South American qualification round ahead of Brazil in February 2020, a triumph that included six victories out of seven, showed that the Albicelestes are capable of making it three Olympic titles.

The South Americans went to Tokyo in March to play two games against the Olympic hosts, winning the first 1-0 and losing the second 3-0. It is likely that the Albiceleste team that returns in July will look different but with Argentina you never know as clubs don't always release players and there is also the distraction of the Copa America on home soil, a tournament that will finish just before the Olympics.

Whatever happens, coach Fernando Batista will have options and is excited about talents such as striker Adolfo Gaich who plays his club football in Italy. Of course, much depends on which three overage players the boss wants to bring in, which want to come and are able to do so.


Predictions: Getting out of the group would be a major achievement . Perhaps the one positive for Arnold is that there is going to be little pressure on the Olyroos as nobody expects. As consolations go, it is relatively scant, but get a good start and anything could happen.