WITH a bevy of emerging A-League talents playing starring roles, Olyroos head coach Graham Arnold delivered on his pre-tournament promise that Australia would shock the world at Tokyo 2020, beginning with a 2-0 victory over Argentina.
A clash with the gargantuan footballing nation kicked off Australia’s Men’s Football Tournament at the Olympic Games on Thursday night.
Olyroos head coach Arnold put his faith in six players currently signed to A-League clubs from the start against Argentina, with ten of 15 players used on the night having played in the A-League throughout the 2020/21 campaign.
It was Western United’s Lachlan Wales and Melbourne City’s Marco Tilio who scored the two goals in Australia’s stunning 2-0 triumph. But it was the collective effort of all 15 players used at the Sapporo Dome – who displayed guts, grit, determination and that easily-identifiable Aussie fighting spirit – that got the Olyroos over the line in the brightest of starts to an Olympic campaign.
Read on to see how every Olyroo who featured in the A-League last season fared in an unforgettable night at Tokyo 2020!
A surprise inclusion in the starting lineup for some, Western United striker Wales seized the opportunity granted to him by Arnold to strike Australia into the lead against Argentina in the 14th minute of play, ghosting to the back post to brush home King’s cross from the left which Mitchell Duke helped into his path.
With Australia’s 1-0 lead held intact until the 70th minute, Wales received one last chance to put the result to bed when both he and Riley McGree darted into the box to go face-to-face with Argentinian stopper Jeremías Ledesma. McGree could have taken the shot himself, but elected to pass into Wales’ path. The ball was played slightly behind Wales, whose resulting shot was blocked.
It was the last touch of the night for Wales who was substituted soon after. The heart-in-mouth moment was soon to be cast aside, thanks to the sealing goal which was to come off the foot of a fellow A-League starlet.
Marco Tilio is a rising Australian star all too familiar with coming off the bench to devastating effect.
The Melbourne City talent scored less than two minutes into his A-League debut with Sydney FC in the 2019/20 campaign, and showed on multiple occasions throughout his first season at his new club City in 2020/21 exactly what he put on show against Argentina at the Sapporo Dome.
Olyroos boss Arnold threw Tilio into the mix with Australia holding a 1-0 lead heading into the final ten minutes of play.
His first touch of the game came off his right foot, sending Mitchell Duke tearing toward goal. Duke cut off the left wing onto his right boot as Tilio bombed from the halfway line toward the edge of the penalty area, where he received the ball back from the Olyroos striker.
This time off his left, Tilio stabbed at a first-time strike off the inside of his boot which curled into the far-right corner of goal. Decisive, instinctive, lethal – a sealing goal to savour.
Melbourne City’s emerging custodian kept a hard-earned clean sheet on a testing night at the Sapporo Dome.
Tom Glover produced four saves from four shots faced to keep a dangerous Argentina attack spearheaded by 1.94m Argentinian striker Adolfo Gaich. Well protected by a back four consisting of Harry Souttar, Thomas Deng and A-League full-backs Joel King and Nathaniel Atkinson, Glover ensured he provided the safe hands whenever called upon to keep the opposition out in Australia’s first Group C contest.
A busy 90-minute shift for City speedster Nathaniel Atkinson included 19 duels, 79 touches and one hard-earned clean sheet.
The 2020/21 Joe Marston Medalist continues to grow from strength to strength after his return from a high-grade hamstring tear suffered at City during the most recent A-League campaign. Atkinson made it back in time for the A-League Finals Series in which he starred, and the Tasmanian picked up right where he left off in his first Olympic outing.
As challenges continue to present to Sydney FC left-back Joel King, the 20-year-old approaches each and every one with confidence, class and a cool head. King displayed all of those impressive attributes in his role down the left flank for Arnold’s side against Argentina on Thursday night.
King made six ball recoveries, five duels and won all of his aerial duels in defence, whilst getting forward to cause problems of his own down the other end.
King created three chances and passed at 100% accuracy in the final third. In the 14th minute he made his most telling contribution of the game, when Souttar sent him bombing down the left wing with a searching through pass lofted toward the corner from inside his own defensive half.
He took the ball in his stride with one touch, looked up and drilled a cross to Mitchell Duke, who in turn flicked the ball into the path of Wales to score the all-important opening goal.
Macarthur FC midfielder Denis Genreau took 56 touches to lay 39 passes at 82.1% accuracy throughout his 89-minute shift in the Olyroos’ 2-0 victory.
Working in tandem with Melbourne City engine Connor Metcalfe in the centre of the park, Genreau laid four tackles and engaged in 11 duels, collecting one of Australia’s seven yellow cards in the feisty encounter.
An A-League Premiership/Championship winner with City in 2020/21, this A-League star has a hunger for silverware which was put on show throughout the 90 minutes of Australia’s triumph over Argentina.
Connor Metcalfe took 61 touches, played 41 touches and made four tackles, seven ball recoveries and engaged in 12 duels.
As the only overage member of Arnold’s Olympic squad, Duke led by example in a lung-busting shift as the spearhead of Australia’s attack against Argentina.
Duke was given the objective by Arnold pre-tournament to end as Olympic top scorer, but the 30-year-old made his impact felt as a provider in Australia’s first Group C fixture, notching assists to both Wales and Tilio on either side of half-time to set up the 2-0 victory.
Nicholas D’Agostino came into the game alongside Tilio as a late substitute with 11 minutes left on the clock. The former Perth Glory forward took just seven touches and played five passes in his time on the field – time he will hope to build on in Australia’s next Olympic fixture against Spain on July 25.
Western Sydney Wanderers midfielder Keanu Baccus replaced Genreau in the midfield for the final minute of the Olyroos’ 2-0 win over Argentina.
Baccus managed six touches and four accurate passes in his brief appearance as he came on late to sure up the midfield and close out Australia’s clean sheet efforts.