The Olyroos have held on for a nervy 1-0 win over 10-man Uzbekistan in the third-place playoff at the AFC Under-23 championships to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
Nicholas D’Agostinho skipped past two defenders before sliding the ball into the bottom corner in the 47th minute at Bangkok’s Rajamangala Stadium on Saturday night to secure Australia’s place at their first Olympic tournament in 12 years.
“It is a moment I am never going to forget, and it wasn’t just me, it was a team performance tonight,” the striker said.
“We had to fight right until the end and we know as Australia that we have the fight, the talent, and the courage to do a job.
“We wanted to come here and win the tournament and unfortunately it didn’t happen but we’re not taking anything away from the boys tonight, they did a fantastic job, we are through to the Olympics, we can’t be happier.”
It was the Olyroos’ second chance to qualify for the 2020 games after they missed their first opportunity with a 2-0 loss to South Korea in Wednesday night’s semi-final.
Thats… thats why they call them… the Olyroos… because Olympics… https://t.co/FE7LVblNpb
— The Brain Thinker (@eamonnwarner) January 25, 2020
Proud coach Graham Arnold said his side worked hard to secure Australia’s best-ever finish at the biennial tournament.
“That would 100 per cent be the biggest game of their careers and their lives,” he said after the win.
“They have not experienced anything like that at club land as well as obviously with the national teams, so it has been a wonderful learning process for the players and I felt that we dealt with it very well.”
Arnold said the result was also a huge victory for Australian soccer because Olympics tournaments offer an opportunity to blood young players.
“When you have a great pathway, a great preparation for the Olympics, then it creates six or seven top Socceroo players and for the senior national team and that is very important,” he said.
Uzbekistan were the dominant side for most the match, even after Oybek Bozorov was sent off for a dangerous tackle on Zach Duncan in the 59th minute.
Australia started well with D’Agostinho rising to head the ball past goalkeeper Abduvohid Nematov in the fifth minute, but the goal was disallowed after Nematov was fouled in the lead-up.
Uzbekistan winger Djasur Yakhshibaev had two good chances in the first half hour but headed one straight into Olyroos goalkeeper Tom Glover’s hands and curled another just wide from the edge of the area.
They’ve done it! 🙌🏽
For the first time since 2008, Australia will see the Olyroos at an Olympic Games! 💚💛
Congratulations boys! 🥳
— AUS Olympic Team (@AUSOlympicTeam) January 25, 2020
Australia were on the back foot, but after the break they took a surprise lead when D’Agostinho skipped past two defenders and sent a neat finish into the bottom corner.
The Olyroos had a chance to double their lead but midfielder Keanu Baccus’ 76th minute effort was dealt with by Nematov.
The Central Asian side refused to give up and continued to press for an equaliser in the final 10 minutes despite being a man down.
Yakhshibaev had a chance to send the match into extra time in the 89th minute, but sent his free kick over the crossbar.
A total of six minutes of stoppage time was added but Australia hung on to book their place in Tokyo.
South Korea and Saudi Arabia will play in the final of the AFC Under-23 championships on Sunday night, with both teams already qualified for the Olympics.