Group C still remains wide open as we head into the final round of group games. Australia sit in second and are in a fantastic position to qualify for the quarter-finals for the first time since 2004. Standing in their way is an equally stubborn and motivated Egypt.
The Olyroos’ defence shone once again in Sapporo on Sunday night as they managed to weather a Spanish onslaught for 81 minutes before a Mikel Oyarzabal header consigned Australia to defeat.
Despite the result, Graham Arnold’s men can hold their head up high as they showed a resilience and a toughness that has not always been present in national sides.
Captain Thomas Deng, Harry Souttar and Nathaniel Atkinson in particular had stand out performances as they were able to largely contain a star-studded Spain attack.
There were some drawbacks however, as Atkinson, striker Mitchell Duke and key midfielder Riley McGree picked up their second bookings of the tournament, meaning they will miss the crucial match at the Miyagi Stadium.
Their opponents Egypt were also on the receiving end of a narrow 1-0 defeat against Argentina. Despite the chances created and possession stats being very even, a 52nd minute Facundo Medina strike ultimately undid Egypt.
The result means The Young Pharaohs sit bottom of Group C with a solitary point. However a win against Australia and a draw or loss for Argentina in the other game would see Egypt sneak into the quarter-final places above the Olyroos.
Australia know that a point will be enough to earn them a precious place in the quarter-finals. However a win will give them a great chance to nab top spot in the group ahead of Spain.
Keys to Victory:
Before the Olympics, if you offered any Australian football fan three points after games against Spain and Argentina, they would have bitten your hand off.
Australia put in a remarkable team performance to defeat Argentina and can feel aggrieved that they didn’t earn a point for their backs to the wall performance against Spain.
However, a loss to Egypt would mean that all of the hard work would have been for nothing and would be viewed as a huge disappointment.
Make no mistake, this is a winnable match for the Olyroos, but they cannot view it as a forgone conclusion. They be mentally ready for this match and be ready to fight for the result rather than merely strolling to victory.
It will be something their experienced manager will be heavily reinforcing in the lead up to the match, he will be hoping they receive the message loud and clear.
Like Australia, Egypt have proved that they are no pushovers. Ably marshalled by overage players Ahmed Hegazi and Mohamed el Shenawy, they held Spain goalless and only conceded once against Argentina.
However, they have failed to score so far in the tournament. And whilst their game plan is undoubtedly a defensive one, they have struggled to be a dangerous threat on the counter attack.
There is little doubt that their defence will put in another reliable performance, however their attacking weapons in Ramadan Sobhi and Taher Mohamed must step up and test an equally stoic Olyroos defence.
If their attack can match their defence, then they will be difficult to beat.
Nathaniel Atkinson put in a man of the match performance on Sunday, offering defensive stability as well as being a potent threat going forward with his overlapping runs. However his yellow card means that he will miss Wednesday’s game.
Western United defender Dylan Pierias will likely be the man to slot in at the right back spot.
He has got big shoes to fill and has not featured in the opening two games, however like Atkinson he is able to contribute effectively on the attacking and defensive end.
Arnold could choose to shift Thomas Deng out wide, however Pierias’ attacking potential could suit an Olyroos side that will be opting for a more cavalier approach than in their first two matches.
If Pierias can emulate the man he is replacing, it could be the difference between Australia reaching the quarter-finals or going home.
Australia vs Egypt, Group C
Date: Wednesday, 28th July
Time: 9:00pm AEST
Venue: Miyagi Stadium, Rifu, Japan