The Olyroos' Tokyo dreams were dealt a reality check on Thursday morning, after they were comprehensively outplayed on their way to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of South Korea in the semi-finals of the 2020 AFC U23 Championships.
With both a spot in the final and berth in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics up for grabs in the semifinal the stakes were high but, unfortunately for Head Coach Graham Arnold’s side, they were never able to get out of the blocks against the Koreans.
Though it took until the second half for the side in red to get on the scoreboard through man-of-the-match Kim Dae-won, they were in control almost straight from the get-go at the Thammasat Stadium.
Indeed, when substitute Lee Dong-gyeong drove home the game’s second goal in the 76th minute it felt less like a dagger and more like a coup de grace – the Koreans mercifully extinguishing any flickering hopes of a comeback that was never going to come.
However, the defeat does not mean that Australia’s quest to secure a place in the Olympics for the first time since 2008 is dead.
With three-sides winning the right to represent the AFC at the Games of the XXXII Olympiad, the Olyroos will head for a third-place playoff with Uzbekistan on Saturday night with a simple equation in front of them.
Win and you’re in. Lose and you get nothing.
FULL-TIME | Australia U23 🇦🇺 0-2 Korea Republic U23 🇰🇷— #AFCU23 (@theafcdotcom) January 22, 2020
🤩 Goals from Kim Dae-won and Lee Dong-gyeong secure a 2-0 win for 🇰🇷 to set up an #AFCU23 final against Saudi Arabia 🇸🇦 on Sunday and seal a place at #Tokyo2020! pic.twitter.com/Cvu8IWGh1O
The Koreans flashed the game’s first bit of danger in the third minute of play when striker Oh Se-hun, shrugging off an attempted shirt pull from Aiden O’Neill, let loose with an effort from range that Tom Glover was forced to get down low to collect.
They then threatened again in the 13th minute when Dae-won stared down his marker on the left before looping a ball into the area that, coming off the head of Tass Mourdoukoutas, fell to Um Won-sang and allowed him to flash a first time effort wide.
Against the run of play, Australia - who started with tournament standout Reno Piscopo on the bench - had their first chance of the game in the 23rd minute when a driven into the area by Alex Gersbach eventually made its way to Al Hassan Toure.
His shot taking a deflection, the ball fell to Trent Buhagiar at the top of the six-yard-box but the Sydney FC man couldn’t control it in the chaos and the ball went out of play.
Answering quickly, the Koreans came within inches of scoring when Se-hun turned and blasted a thunderous effort from just outside the area goalward only for his shot to clatter off the post and back into play.
Dylan Ryan, hanging around after a corner, hammered Australia’s best chance of the game just wide in the 45th minute when he met Lee Sang-min’s attempted clearance of a chipped pass into the box with a half-volleyed effort that bounced wide.