The Olyroos have had a mixed bag in its two Olympic warm-up matches, with one loss and a win over New Zealand.
With the tournament due to start in just six days against South American powerhouse Argentina, coach Graham Arnold will be a little uneasy heading into the opening match.
While there were certainly some encouraging signs, there were also some moments that were less than ideal against New Zealand. Here are five key takeaways from the Olyroos two matches before it opens its Olympic account in a week.
1. Connor Metcalfe and Denis Genreau must start together
The A-League pair need to be starting against Argentina. Metcalfe in particular will be the driving force in the Olyroos midfield.
His running and tackling ability will prove decisive against the big teams in the competition. Metcalfe has shown this season in the A-League that he has taken his game to another level, and pairing him with Genreau could be a deciding factor.
Genreau will compliment Metcalfe perfectly. His range of passing and willingness to put a foot into a challenge will make him an important piece of Graham Arnold’s midfield.
With both Metcalfe and Genreau, the Olyroos engine room will be ticking over very nicely. Both have had reasonable matches in the lead-up and starting the two games, and it is clear that Arnold likes the midfield duo.
2. Mitch Duke will have to be clinical in front of goal
The 30-year-old striker from the Western Sydney Wanderers is going to have to be prolific for Arnold. Given the Olyroos opponents in Argentina, Spain, and Egypt, clear-cut scoring chances could be at a premium for Australia.
Having a player of Duke’s experience could be telling when chances come his way. In the squad as an over-age player, Duke will more likely be playing against younger defenders at the Olympics. That could be his big advantage.
With Australia potentially not having much possession in games, especially against Spain and Argentina, when chances come Duke’s way, he must covert.
If Arnold wants to move out of the group stage, his experienced striker will need to be ruthless in front of goal. Scoring against New Zealand last time out will no doubt give Duke confidence heading into the Argentina clash.
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3. Daniel Arzani needs to be Australia’s X-factor
The speedy winger has all the tricks in his kit bag. He can do it all: dribble, pass, shoot, and wants to run at defenders. The Olyroos will be relying heavily on the 22-year-old to be a deciding factor in games.
As with Duke, against the better teams, the Olyroos will not have control of possession, so Arzani needs to be dynamic and decisive with his play.
We have seen what he can do, especially with Melbourne City before he secured his move overseas. That is the Daniel Arzani that Australia needs.
Having shown flashes in the two matches against New Zealand, Arzani will have to show more if the Olyroos are to progress.
4. Defence must be compact and difficult to play against
This is perhaps what the Olyroos need to focus on more than anything; playing without the ball. It is no secret that they will not have overwhelming amounts of possession against the better sides.
That makes what the Olyroos do without it paramount. Potentially coming up against top-class forwards, the likes of Harry Souttar, Thomas Deng, Joel King, and Kye Rowles will have to be on their game.
Coming up against world-class players like Dani Ceballos, Marco Asensio, and Mikel Oyarzábal for Spain, the defence will have to be on form to limit scoring opportunities.
Having conceded two goals in the first match against New Zealand, with a penalty and a late second while chasing the game, the Olyroos can not afford to be as shaky defensively as it was. Given that its opponents are a serious step up in quality, the Olympic dream could be over before it starts if they get it wrong.
5. Where does Riley McGree fit in Graham Arnold’s plans?
The creative midfielder started the game and played the full 90 minutes last time out in the 1-0 win over New Zealand as preparations ramp up. But where does he fit in when it comes to the group stages?
His ability to pick passes and find teammates make him a valuable weapon, but with Metcalfe, Genreau, and Arzani, the Olyroos might find that there’s no room for him.
McGree’s talent is undeniable and having a player like him who can pick the lock of opposition defences could be valuable to Arnold. The question will be can he fit into the side with so many other attacking players on the pitch? It might be the gamble that Arnold needs to take.
As we saw in the World Cup Qualifiers, McGree is a star. With only three games in the group stages, nothing can be left to chance. Either starting or as a substitute, McGree must be utilized.
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