The Olyroos will fly to Cambodia tomorrow to kick off their Tokyo 2020 Olympics qualification campaign after a heartbreaking 1-1 draw in a friendly against Malaysia U23s in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday night.
A super goal from the head of Perth Glory’s Brandon Wilson gave Australia the lead just after the break and they looked like they'd hold on for a deserved win.
But in the heat and humidity, the Malaysians finished the stronger and scored a fabulous 93rd-minute equalizer to deny Australia a deserved win after an entertaining clash at the cavernous Shah Alam Stadium.
Captained by Riley McGree, the Australian U23s had Renate FC winger Reno Piscopo in eye-catching form while Wilson bossed the Aussie backline with a superb display.
PEC Zwolle attacking midfielder Denis Genreau and Jets striker Joey Champness also shone on a night when the Australians dominated before a host of substitutions on the hour mark.
A little more composure in front of goal and it could’ve been a win for Graham Arnold’s men who created a host of first-half chances, while at the back the excellent Wilson and Co. dealt comfortably for the most part with what the hosts threw at them.
But fitness was the difference with the hosts finishing strongly against a tiring green and gold side.
Australia’s starting XI
GK: Jordan Holmes
Riley McGree (c)
GK: Daniel Marsh
GK: Tom Glover
THE STORY OF THE GAME
Jordan Holmes playing as a sweeper-keeper in the early stages coming out of his box on numerous occasions.
10’ D’Agostino so close after the Malaysian keeper holds onto the ball too long in the box - they tangle and the danger is averted for the hosts.
12’ Piscopo bursts forward takes on defenders and smashes a shot at the keeper who holds off the fizzing shot at the second attempt.
15’ Close twice in two minutes, with Genreau getting into the box but his low cross is scrambled away then with the goal at his mercy blasts over two minutes later.
24’ Champness with the keeper to beat fails to get the ball past the Malaysian keeper and the ball is scrambled away again.
28’ Holmes fumbles a ball that bobble massively from a low cross but with the ball spilling free Malaysia cannot make the St Mirren keeper pay and blast high and wide.
31’ What was the Malaysian keeper doing?? Tried to dribble outside his box, then gives the ball away inside his half, but the Olyroos fail to capitalise and the ball rolls just wide of the post.
43’ D’Agostino on the end of a cut back but his low shot flashes wide of the post.
46’ Malaysia through on goal but brilliant last-ditch defending from Wilson saves the day with a crucial sliding tackle to take the ball away.
HALF TIME: 0-0: Malaysia struggled to contain Australia’s free-flowing attack. The Aussies with a host of good chances but unable to find the net. It should be two or three goals to nil.
The local fans unfurling a touching tribute to those who lost their lives in Christchurch as the teams return to the pitch.
46’ Malaysia straight through on goal with only Holmes to beat but the Aussie keeper gets his body in the way.
GOAL! 50’ Wilson gets his head above the Malaysian defenders and powers home brilliantly from Piscopo’s corner: 1-0 to the Australians.
55’ Aiden O’Neil on, Pasquali off.
59’ The Aussies with a slew of substitutions as Arnie looks to give game time to as many of his squad as possible. Wales, Margush, Roles, Majok, Koutroumbis all on.
71’ Sub keeper Daniel Margush comes up big after a long ball over the top catches out the Aussies and sets Malaysia free but the Reds man blocks the goal-bound shot.
74’ Baccus subbed on for McGree.
76’ Malaysia again find joy down Australias right side of defence but good defence snuffs out the attack.
78’ Wanderers’ Majok makes space for himself on the edge of the box and blasts at goal, earning a corner off the keeper’s save.
85’ Margush close to a calamity as the ball bounces high, deceiving him on the edge of the box, but vital scrambling defence keeps out the fast-finishing Malaysians.
GOAL! 93’ It was coming, the Malaysians with the tricky play, making space for a fantastic low shot past Margush in virtually the last play of the game.
FULL TIME: 1-1
The Australian U-23s begin their Olympics qualification campaign in earnest this Friday night with a tricky clash against hosts Cambodia.
Their training camp and two games in Kuala Lumpur this week as they acclimatised to the intense heat were desperately needed to help this new group’s progression.
Now it gets real for a squad that has so much potential with Pasquali, Piscopo, McGree, Waring, Genreau, Champness and, of course, Daniel Arzani when he returns from injury.
Sunday night’s display would’ve been just what Graham Arnold wanted after Thursday night’s loss to a local club side, with the Australians’ attacking combinations starting to gel nicely. And Piscopo looks a real find. But not being able to hold on will be hugely frustrating. Australia deserved a win but in those hot conditions, it perhaps wasn’t a surprise.
All in all, a good learning experience for many players.
Onto Phnom Penh.