Despite the positives, the Olyroos were ultimately a disappointment
Disappointment. It was the word of the moment for Australian football fans last night as Egypt extinguished the Olyroos’ Olympic campaign with a 2-0 victory.
It filled the air as the final whistle sounded at the Miyagi Stadium.
You could see it in Daniel Arzani as he slumped to the ground, his valiant efforts in vain.
You could see it in the players in the dugout, heads in hands.
Contrasted against the backdrop of the songs of delight from the Egypt camp, it was all the more painful.
Australia only needed a point in their final group game.
Yet, in the humidity of a Japanese summer’s night, they melted away along with their dreams of a first quarter-final appearance since 2004.
As the dust settles from the crushing defeat, fans and pundits will begin to process the whirlwind events of the last week.
It was a week that began so brightly with a shock 2-0 win over Argentina yet ended with an all too familiar sinking feeling.
Marco Tilio (left) celebrates scoring Australia's second against Argentina. (Getty Images)
Assessing the outcomes of this Olympic tournament is not a cut and dry exercise.
There are many contradictions when it comes to judging the performances of the players and the manager.
The opening game against Argentina was a fantastic team performance all-around.
Australia was defensively rock-solid, combative in midfield and devastating on the counter-attack.
The players looked hungry and alive.
Graham Arnold had a clear game plan, and both he and the players thoroughly earned the praise that came their way for executing it.
Three days later, against Spain, the Olyroos earned plaudits for a resilient and gallant defensive display.
The Olyroos huddle ahead of their second fixture against Spain.
They held out a world-class Spanish side for most of the match as they fell to a noble 1-0 defeat.
Whilst the attacking threat from the previous game wasn’t as potent, it was still seen as a positive result.
Then along came Egypt.
Before the game, Arnold debated how he would cover the suspended trio of Mitchell Duke, Nathaniel Atkinson and Riley McGree.
Atkinson, who was Australia’s best against Spain, would be tough to replace.
The other tactical dilemma was what shape he would employ.
Would he remain conservative with a solid shape that had yielded success in the previous two games?
Or would he opt for an expansive 3-5-2 formation that would utilise attacking wing-backs and put pressure on a defensively strong Egypt?
In the end, he went for the conservative option.
He broke up the previously successful centre-back partnership between Harry Souttar and captain Thomas Deng by moving the latter to right back.
Stoke City defender Harry Souttar had an excellent campaign in Tokyo. (AFP)
He also replaced Duke up top with Nicholas D'Agostino, and Dylan Pierias was drafted in too.
Many thought the Western United youngster would play at right-back.
Instead of going toe-to-toe with an Egypt side that had to attack to win, Arnold gambled on his defence withstanding an attacking onslaught for a third consecutive game.
It backfired badly in the first half.
A reshuffled defence was put under relentless pressure by a desperate Egypt, whilst D’Agostino failed to be the impactful focal point offensively that Duke often is.
A McGree-less midfield was simply anonymous.
Egypt scored just on half time, rendering Arnold’s game plan obsolete.
He attempted to change the game in the second half by introducing the dropped Arzani and Keanu Baccus to reinvigorate a pedestrian outfit.
It gave life to the team but not the cutting edge needed.
Arnold and Australia grew desperate, exemplified by bringing on centre-back Jay Rich-Baghuelou as a second striker in the 63rd minute.
Australia did eventually create meaningful opportunities, but multiple superb saves by Egypt’s goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy denied them as the game reached its climax.
Off the back of one such save, Egypt countered and put the game to bed with the second goal to eliminate the Olyroos from the tournament.
Ahmed Rayan scores to give Egypt an unassailable 2-0 lead against the Olyroos. (Getty Images)
They had rarely played due to the ongoing pandemic.
They flattered to deceive the few times they played and came up against powerhouses in Spain and Argentina.
Their first two games of the tournament changed those expectations, though.
To only need a point against a difficult although beatable opposition in the final game meant qualification was undoubtedly achievable.
Ultimately Australia did not meet those expectations.
It means that despite the promising performances of Harry Souttar and Marco Tilio, despite the joys of the Argentina victory, this Olympic tournament has to be regarded as a disappointment.
The manager and the players now must ensure that the positives from this Olympic experience outlive the negatives.