The Olyroos quest to progress to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has gotten off to a frustrating start as Graham Arnold’s men – despite a wonder strike from Reno Piscopo – held to a 1-1 draw with Iraq.
Quickly seizing control of possession early on, Australia’s first real chance of the game was delivered in the seventh minute when a forward run from captain and centre back Thomas Deng won a free-kick just outside the penalty area – Piscopo putting the subsequent set-piece just over the bar.
Though Iraq had a half-chance of their own four minutes later when Sadeq Zamil put a headed effort from a corner wide, Australia should have taken the lead in the 17th after an attempted clearance from goalkeeper Ali Kadhim was picked off and worked to Trent Buhagiar, who then played a ball across the area to Piscopo.
Cutting inside, the Wellington Phoenix attacker could only let loose with a powerful effort that streaked across the face of goal and out for a goal kick.
Said goal kick, though, was immediately sent back into the mix by Arnold’s side and eventually Connor Metcalfe won enough space to play a ball in behind the defence for Al Hassan Toure to run onto and fire home.
Alas, the goal was quickly brought back after it was determined that Toure had strayed offside in the build-up.
Frustratingly for the Olyroos, subsequent chances dried up as their foes settled into the contest, Piscopo and Aiden O’Neill only able to produce half-chances at best as the first half wore on.
Entering the second stanza, the side’s best chances were seemingly only able to be delivered via free-kicks but, luckily, Piscopo was able to produce a moment of magic just past the hour mark when he fired a walloping free-kick into the top corner to give Australia the lead.
But, jolted out of their defensive setup after going down a goal, 2013 champions Iraq roared back to life and almost went level when a free kick in from Hussein Jabbar in the 73rd minute soared just over the heads of his teammates and was cleared by a desperate Metcalfe.
Alas for Australia, four minutes later, the game was restored to equilibrium when a calamitous turnover from Deng was seized upon by Zamil and across to Mohammed Nassif.
Cutting inside, the Iraqi number nine let loose with a shot that careened off the inside of the post and into the net to make it 1-1.
Both sides had chances to win it late, Dylan Ryan heading an Alex Gersbach cross into the post and Nassif shooting an angled effort wide, but neither side had another goal in them as the spoils at the Thammasat Stadium were ultimately shared.
The Olyroos will be back in action in the wee hours of Saturday night/Sunday morning when they take on Thailand at quarter past midnight. They will then conclude their group stage fixtures against Bahrain at the same time on Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning.
Progression to Tokyo 2020 will require Arnold’s side to finish as one of the top-three finishers at the tournament.