Time for the Olyroos to remember their nickname


The Phnom Penh Olympic Stadium has never hosted the Olympics and the Olyroos are also starting to forget what the Five Rings look like.

To be sure that the team still has a chance of Tokyo 2020 then Australia will have to beat South Korea in Cambodia on Tuesday.

At 5pm when seats and sun downers start to be taken at the capital's Foreign Correspondents Club, the Olyroos need to take top spot in Group H to qualify for the AFC U-23 Championships in Thailand in January.

That is an important tournament in its own right but for the best three performing teams there will be a place at the Tokyo Olympics, held a few months later.

Australia’s men may not have appeared at the Olympic stage since 2008 but Korea regards the tournament as a natural part of their history and future. The last time the team was not at the Summer games was Los Angeles in 1984.

None of the current team were within a decade of being born back then of course and nobody wants to be the first for over a generation to miss out. It is almost unthinkable.

Coach Kim Hak-beom knows that only too well and like his counterpart Graham Arnold, has plenty of experience. These are two of the most successful tacticians to emerge from their respective countries.

Arnold has had success with Sydney FC and is now in his second spell in charge of the senior national team.

A decade or so ago and Kim was the biggest name coach in Korea. He led Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma to the K-League title in 2006 and into the last four of the AFC Champions League and a penalty shootout loss to Urawa Reds after a 4-4 aggregate scoreline over two legs.

At the time the games were hailed as signs that standards in Asian football were rising. Kim also  earned the nickname ‘Hakbeomson’, a tenuous-sounding comparison to Alex Ferguson.

Scoring goals has so far not been a problem for either team in Group H with Cambodia and Taiwan both subject to heavy and painful defeats.

Korea have scored 14 in the two games, conceding one, while Australia have managed 12 without the defence being breached.

Kim will relish the crunch clash. After all, he was coach last August and September at the Asian Games.

This is another U-23 competition that Korea takes very seriously as it gives the young players a chance to win gold and earn exemption from military service.

Kim led the young Taeguk Warriors to the big prize in Indonesia, winning headlines around the world as Son Heung-min avoided being called-up to interrupt, and perhaps even end, what was becoming a stellar European career.

Kim rotated the squad heavily back then and is doing the same this time --as is Arnold -- making ten changes from the team that beat Taiwan 8-0 in the opener to the one that defeated Cambodia 6-1. Only midfielder Lee Si-heon has started both games.

“You have to rotate,” Kim said. “There are three games in four days.The weather is very humid and that is why I am grateful to the players for their efforts and hard work. Against Cambodia, it rained and the pitch was heavy and not easy.”

“We know what we have to do, against Australia and we know that they are  strong team. Australian teams are always strong and aggressive but we are looking forward to the challenge.”

The Olyroos will have to look out for Lee Dong-Gyeong, joint top scorer in the tournament so far with five goals despite not starting a game.

Against Cambodia and Taiwan, Kim introduced the Ulsan Horangi winger in the second half to use his pace with the pitch and legs heavy. The earliest Lee has scored so far in his five goals has been the 72nd minute.

It remains to be seen what Kim does with Lee in the final game and it remains to be seen which team takes top spot and moves automatically forward to Thailand, and perhaps, Tokyo.