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  • Writer's pictureMatt Olsen

The road to Paris: Previewing the Olyroos' Asian Cup campaign with Lachlan Brook

After a long journey that started on the foot of the Swiss Alps and graced the coast of Southern France before they visited the far-flung Tajikistan and the warm embrace of Saudi Arabia, the Olyroos have completed their preparations to attempt qualification for a second consecutive Olympic games. Front Page Football spoke to forward Lachlan Brook ahead of the U23 AFC Asian Cup in Doha, the tournament that will decide their fate.

The Olyroos train in the Arabian sun in Doha. (Image: Football Australia)


With the experience and competitive football gained seemingly unrivalled to the conditioning of other Australian national team setups that have come before them, it is not hard to see why expectation is something bred into the Olyroos and all their observers ahead of the U23 AFC Asian Cup.


To capture the spirit of said expectations and preview the tournament, forward and experienced youth international Lachlan Brook spoke to FPF on the eve of kick-off against Jordan tonight.


Having been through a performance routine that has included many tournament scenarios and competitive games, Brook confirmed that one luxury the team has had going into the Asian Cup is simply a bit of breathing room, saying that time is valuable.


"It has been good. In other windows we have been limited with time and we've had to go straight into games, so it's good to get the training block in," he said.


Going into the tournament, a lot of the squad and its eligible players have sacrificed finishing their domestic seasons, whilst several European based players have had a difficult time being allowed to play at the tournament. Midfielder Louis D'Arrigo, for example, had his Polish club withdraw their permission to allow him to travel to Doha.

Brook commented on the issue, noting that although it is bothersome, most of the squad have a clear goal in mind and cannot be distracted by showing their displeasure with the powers that be.

"It would be a lie to say it's in anyway ideal, and if we look at the big picture there is a lot riding on this with an Olympic Games on the line," he said.


"For us it has been a two year cycle to focus on this goal, and for us it's important. We wouldn't think otherwise (about selection issues). It is not ideal missing the end of the A-League season but big picture, the Olympics is something we've all been dreaming of."

The host nation Qatar has obviously made its name through serious investment in the sport, and though certainly controversial, we wanted a gauge from inside the playing group about the hospitality of the location, noting that senior FIFA World Cup and AFC Asian Cup stadia and facilities will be used.


"I think the last few Asian Cups I was apart of weren't at the best places facility wise, so when we found out we're playing in Qatar amongst the World Cup facilities, and even now we have been to the training ground and it has been world class, which goes a long way in how we prepare and our recovery, so we're buzzing," Brook said.


As for the preparation, it is no secret that many in the camp and within Football Australia are pleased that the team has had as much exposure and positive results leading up to the games deciding Olympic qualification.

Australia finished second at the WAFF U23 Championship, losing to South Korea in the Final. (Image: Football Australia)


The Olyroos have only lost twice over 90 minutes across their past 14 matches, one being a friendly against Switzerland's U20s that began Olympic preparations in March 2023, the other the Semi-Final of the Maurice Revello Tournament three months later against Panama. Brook says the lack of preparation comparatively has likely been a weakness for Australia throughout previous cycles.


"I think with the exposure over the last few years, maybe going back that has been one of the problems, trying to get everyone together from all over the world, and we've never done camp in Australia, so it becomes logistically very hard," he said.


"With the games and tournaments we've had, we've shown that we can do really well when we play together and get that exposure as a team, so I think with that we can go all the way, saying anything less is a bit silly anyway."

As for the tournament itself, Australia are in Group A and will take on Jordan on the opening day of the tournament, a country whose senior side just reached an Asian Cup Final and should not be taken lightly.


Elsewhere, Indonesia have qualified for their first U23 Asian Cup, and given how much youth football means to ASEAN nations, this matchup will again prove tough. The final match of the group stage will see Australia face Qatar, who lost to the Olyroos in Saudi Arabia last November but will be a different beast as the host nation.


Then, should a Group B side be met in a decisive quarter-final, it may likely contain previous champions Japan, or South Korea, who Tony Vidmar's side just lost to on penalties in the U23 West Asian Football Federation Championship Final. A special mention should also be given to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who were quarterfinalists and one game away from qualification for Tokyo in 2020. Brook believes the squad will have the goods to overcome any challenge.


"I think for us we don't really mind who we play, we have full confidence in what we are able to do. Whether it's Japan or a South Korea, we are more than capable of beating those teams, and for us it really is just focusing game to game, so any challenge that comes our way we are ready for it," he said.


Brook's story is also fascinating to note, as the winger has been apart of Olyroos setups since debuting in 2019, but missed Graham Arnold's squad for the Tokyo games.


He touched on the personal milestone of reaching such vast experience at this level, but also on the different breed of values coming together within the squad, noting fellow 'veterans' and the blended experience of those based both in Australia and overseas.

Brook in training ahead of the upcoming clash with Jordan. (Image: Football Australia)


"For me it would mean a lot, obviously. I think I had an odd or different career where I have been up and down but this season for myself is the best I have had for a very long time, so qualifying would really cap off an amazing year and would mean the world to me," he said.


"I think we have a really good mix. We have players who have been in the set up for a while like myself, and that does go a long way in a tournament like this. The tournament can be different to season football."

The mix Brook refers to is an asset the Olyroos have that maybe went missing in previous cycles. The notion exists that many who have been around the setup, be it at younger levels or even with vast experience domestically, will be crucial to deciding how far this team can go in their quest for continental glory.


"Having players who have experienced it before alongside the coach is different. The player who has been through it can touch on one or two things a coach can't, so I'm hoping to always be a leader, and we also have someone like Jacob Italiano who has been in the system for a while and who has been the Olyroos captain, so that is always good to blend with young players as well," Brook said.


Beyond the experience also comes the intrigue surrounding who may have a standout tournament within the Australian ranks. Brook provided a diplomatic answer that nevertheless proves there is a unity and spirit in the team running very deep.


"I think when someone is called up in this team, it is very hard to disappoint. The pool really is one of the best we have had, every player coming in is doing really well. So there is no one here you shouldn't be keeping an eye on," he explained.

 

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Ultimately, when the time comes for kick-off tonight, the tournament will essentially be phased into two sections. One where the Olyroos must win a quarter-final to assure at least a playoff spot for the Olympics, or the other scenario where they can play the tournament itself to achieve the grand accolade of becoming Asian champions, something no age-group Australian national team has ever achieved.


Brook says the team have their eyes on going all the way, but maintaining the old adage of taking things one game at a time is also crucial to winning in tournament football.


"You've got to make the top three or four really, with the potential of the playoff against Guinea in France, but this all ties together because if we win the cup we're going to qualify anyway, and I think the main focus for us is to go on and win the Asian Cup," he said.


With the squad raring to go, the Olyroos will be out to inspire the nation and prove that their very best can trouble any opponent. It will certainly be intriguing to see how high their ceiling can be set.


You can catch their opener against Jordan tonight at 11pm AEST live on Paramount+, with a special mention to the host broadcaster, who will have exclusive rights to every match of the tournament.


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