Monday, April 21, 2008
The task will be much tougher this time around, however. At the last event, the Serbia-Montenegro side was beset by internal squabbles just prior to the event, resulting in a virtual B team being sent to Greece...where it was comfortably thrashed by both Argentina (the eventual champions) and Frank Farina's Australia side. It's unlikely that the Serbians, runners-up at the European Under 21 championship, will suffer such a crippling fiasco twice in a row.
Argentina will surely be the favourites for the group. Leo Messi, Fernando Gago, Sergio Aguero, Ever Banega...the talent at Sergio Batista's disposal is frightening. The Ivorians deserve respect as well; sub-Saharan African teams have a proud recent history in the Olympic football tournament.
So where does that leave the Olyroos? In my view, this is a slightly more talented bunch overall than the 2004 crew, but some of the players - Mark Milligan and Nathan Burns in particular - have suffered dips in form recently. Graham Arnold has indicated that he is likely to draft in the three permitted over-age players for the event, and one can understand his logic, given that the old-timers were responsible for four of the six goals Australia scored in 2004.
The Olympic football tournament, as I've often argued, is not of earth-shaking relevance from a developmental point of view. Yet the usual knee-jerk opinion pieces will no doubt proliferate should Arnold's charges fail to progress to the quarter-finals. If the Olyroos do indeed fall at the first hurdle, you might hear a sibilant whisper emanating from the general direction of Artarmon. That would be Les Murray mouthing the word "crisis".
In reality, the achievement of fighting through two Asian qualifying stages to reach the tournament was impressive enough in itself, and a good result in Beijing would be something of a bonus.
Even if this current group fail to progress beyond the first stage, I'd feel satisfied that the players and the FFA have learnt more from this campaign than any of our previous Olympic campaigns.
Our opponents this time will provide another level of quality that the boys are yet to be subjected to, and this will be a very valuable lesson regardless of the results.
BTW, I'm a bit worried about using over age players if the seniors make the final WC qualification phase. They will have a hefty workload as it is, let alone playing what is a fairly insignificant tourmament in the bigger picture. Let's hope some commonsense prevails here, or we could be seeing three burnt out over age players possibly risking their club careers - and hurting the national team - in the process. As I recall, Craig Moore had a fairly torrid time at Rangers after participating in Athens.
Serbian Olympic team has been announced already and it is definitely not the "B" team fiasco of 2004.
Can't find the team details right now but it is posted on SFCU in the Serbian football thread.
I'm in favour of keeping our team strictly U23, but sadly the now traditional Oz Olympic attitude (win at all costs) will probably intrude.
In any case, Arnold (as usual) can't win. If he picks U23s only and the team flops, he'll be derided as an idiot, if he picks overage players, the usual suspects will moan that he's interested in results over development.
On the subject of the Olympics, BTW, all the mawkishness over Nick d'Arcy is proof for me of how we've come to take the Olympics far too seriously. Thirty years ago, would anyone have had a second thought about kicking someone off the team if he did something as criminally stupid as that? But no, now it'll "ruin his life". FFS.
I think Riquelme, Mascherano and Demichelis have been selected (and agreed) to be the overage players too.
Could be well off but off the top of my head, the team might line-up like this:
As an aside from the Olyroos POV, this will be a good preview of the Argie's 2010 WC team.
That is one helluva good side.
Ruben's just signed for Derby..seh'll be right mate.
One thing though, the Qualification route will mean this group is better prepared than ever before, that said if the likes of Drogba and co are expected to play as some are suggesting, it may be the toughest group we've ever had at an Olympics.
Call it the romance of rose-tinted gregories but the Olyroos have worked hard together as a unit, they might not have the star factor, but they've the solid team stuff that will make the difference.
Expectations will soar to astronomical heights by the time the first game kicks off, so there will be the inevitable media (esp. Foster) disappointment, but the boys won't embarrass themselves.
There's never been a point when the Aussie football future looked this good.
"The reason is that, at 17, the object of participating in tournaments of this kind is not just the natural aim of winning them but as a medium for developing our elite young players.
"Personally, I couldn’t give a hoot if Australia doesn’t win the U-17 World Cup, provided they try to play a way that is good for their development and that they emerge from the tournament better players."
Looks like there be no mouthing of 'crisis' - with a few provisos.
However it would be fantastic if we managed to progress in the tournament and get a bit more exposure. We mad the quarter finals in Athens, so it was a great result.
I wouldn't count on it.
Remember the mileage they made out of Australia being eliminated from the Asian U17s by Laos (who were later found to have fiddled the ages of their players)?