September 29, 2021


Next Level Game Over

Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Australia vs Argentina, football, Olyroos, column, analysis, Adam Peacock

It is one game so to assume the Olyroos beating Argentina will guarantee a spot on the podium in two weeks-time is a fine example of 24-carat fool’s gold.

Yet after so many of those ‘it is one game’ moments where Australian teams have failed, the reaction was drawn from dark charcoal for a familiar morbid, dystopian feel.

So why not bask in the sunshine of victory, for a fleeting moment?

Beating Argentina is different and deserves a reaction with a point of difference.

Above all it gives hope and not of the false kind.

Spain is next. A Spain full of Euro 2020 semi-finalists yet the Argentina result and performance – mirroring each other in terms of excellence – does lend itself to deeper meaning.

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In Graham Arnold we trust.Source: Getty Images

The 90 minutes in Sapporo satisfy those who know what the A League can be. What Australian football can be if clear direction is given to the area which has fallen woefully short in the A League era: development.

Players were still drenched in sweat and happiness on the pitch last night when FA boss James Johnson hit send on a stat shared on social media; young players’ minutes in the A League this season was double what it was two seasons ago.

10 of the 15 who played a part in the Argentina win featured extensively in the A League this past season, confirming the feeling that Covid and its logistical challenges has produced unique opportunity for young players in their own backyard to play, and play regularly! Finally!

So many teams in the last decade national youth teams have arrived at qualifying tournaments, or the real thing if they managed to get through and been on the back foot from day one due to a lack of game time.

If you want to dig halfway to the earth’s centre, one could point to when the A League was announced in November 2004 as a pivotal moment, when teams were created, not clubs. Youth was an overthought. No longer. Each club has an academy, the seeds of which have taken time to settle over the last five years and finally sprout.

If anything, last night helps in some small way to helping the relationship between the FA and the A League clubs, which in the brave new world of independence will want to make sure it is flourishing before national team glory is attained. A fine line is to be tread given the demerged priorities.

Macarthur FC, for instance wake up this morning with a player in Denis Genreau much more valuable than what he was 24 hours ago. That sounds simplistic and conceited, but for many scouts and agents, it’s a lot easier to trust your eyes at a big tournament than it is to trust the word of mouth on the other side of the globe in the backwater of Australia. Agents connected to the Australian game watched the second half with phones charging, batteries sucked dry by the amount of communication received from abroad.

The decision of Graham Arnold to take Genreau and Connor Metcalfe to the Socceroos World Cup qualifiers in June rankled with Macarthur and Melbourne City. Reasonable reactions given the call ups were a surprise and both were integral to their teams’ aim of winning a championship.

Daniel Arzani was at his threatening best.Source: Getty Images

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The return is two players who last night hit the ground on the world stage in a manner which burnt turf.

Another path was forced upon Marco Tilio. Melbourne City gave him a go when injuries hit this season. Tilio, used to having a go given his diminutive stature, didn’t shirk at any moment. Got a the latest of late call ups to the Olyroos. And now look.

Many today, yours truly included, won’t stop looking at Tilio having a go, ripping one top bins to seal a famous victory.

Those are the moments which make a strain of getting to an Olympics worthwhile. It is a massive task, not helping by the dysfunction at a development level in the A League era up until recent times. The whole process is littered with potential problems, given self-interests.

Of course, it stings a club to lose a player they are developing for the national cause in games, a big issue in Australia with his misalignment with the Asian football calendar. In early 2019, qualifying for these Olympics came smack bang in the middle of an A League season and it caused disruption for the clubs. Performing at an international youth level, though, produces senior national team players. Graham Arnold told anyone who would listen pre-Olympics: 87% of Olyroos have become Socceroos. We missed London 2012 and Rio 2016, disasters which help make qualifying for Qatar 2022 no sure thing.

What about the complete and utter scenes.Source: Getty Images

Of greater relevance to the clubs, performing at both senior and youth is the gold standard proven way to increase a nation’s reputation in the big European market. As it stands, Australia’s reputation for producing players requires a microscope to properly evaluate. At best.

The reputation grows, everyone, at every level in the game prospers.

This is a lot of thought, perhaps overthought, to just one game.

Spain on Sunday will be better than Argentina, who come to these Olympics with a squad way off the quality to the one that won gold in 2008 featuring Messi, Aguero, Lavezzi, Di Maria, Riquelme, Mascherano, etc, etc.

So, this is not getting carried away.

It’s just satisfaction the consequence of young Australian players being given opportunity is a result which can only benefit Australian football in the long run.

It’s a bloody long run, but a hell of a lot more enjoyable when you’re not struggling every step of the way.

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