Australia’s Road to Tokyo 2020
It’s been a long road to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games for the Australia U-23’s, but that’s what made their 1-0 win over Uzbekistan all the more emphatic and momentous.
The young Aussies earned themselves a spot at the Tokyo Olympic Games to be played out later this year with a tightly-fought win over Uzbekistan in the AFC U-23 Championship third-place playoff on Saturday night (AEDT).
The victory - inspired by a brilliant solo goal by Nick D'Agostino - is the capstone moment of what has been a long, arduous journey to qualifying for the Olympic Games which began in March, 2019.
Read ahead as we take you through Australia U-23's road to Tokyo 2020!
March 22, 2019 – the qualification road begins
To qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games the Australia U-23’s first had to qualify for the AFC Championship, where the top three sides of the competition would ultimately book their flights to Tokyo 2020.
First up on the qualification route was a game against Cambodia U-23’s at Pnomh Penh Olympic Stadium on March 22, 2019, a game Australia won 6-0.
The Green and Gold were four goals to the good at half time thanks to goals from Aiden O’Neill, Joey Champness, Riley McGree and Brandon Wilson, but they weren’t done yet; Pierce Waring scored a beauty in the second half to make it five before Champness popped up once more to seal the tie in Australia’s favour, and get qualification for the AFC Championship off to a flying start.
March 24, 2019 – Lucky number six comes up once more against Chinese Taipei
Two days after putting six goals past Cambodia Australia U-23’s scored six more, this time against Chinese Taipei at Phnom Penh Olympic Stadium.
The young Aussies dominated from the get-go with Abraham Majok scoring a brace to kick off proceedings, before Thomas Deng and Tass Mourdoukoutas both ventured forward from defence to score a goal apiece to extend the lead to four.
Then, after scoring in the first game of qualification Waring was at it again, this time at the double to secure another huge 6-0 win to continue Australia’s strong start to qualification.
March 26, 2019 – Qualification secured with draw against Korea Republic
The Green and Gold needed a draw against Korea Republic to progress to the AFC Championship and that’s exactly what they got when they played out a 2-2 draw in Cambodia.
Two first half goals to the then-Brisbane Roar and current Perth Glory youngster D’Agostino almost sealed qualification before the half-hour mark.
D’Agostino’s first goal came largely thanks to a superb assist from Lachlan Wales who laid an inch-perfect cross to D’Agostino to tuck away, and just eight minutes later the pacy attacker had his second.
Korea Republic – who Australia faced in last night’s semi-final – scored two goals on either side of half time to make things interesting, but that’s how the result stayed to full time, ensuring Australia’s qualification for the 2020 AFC Championship in Thailand.
January 8, 2020 – Piscopo rocket earns Aussies a draw against Iraq
Ten months on from qualification the Australia U-23’s got their 2020 AFC Championship campaign underway in Thailand with a 1-1 draw against Iraq.
Australia took the lead just after the hour mark with a thunderous free kick from Wellington Phoenix starlet Reno Piscopo.
Poised with a scoring chance from a long-range dead ball opportunity Piscopo blasted a strike into the top corner leaving Iraq goalkeeper Ali Kadhim Hadi no chance of denying Australia the lead.
But Iraq substitute Mohammad Qasem popped up 15 minutes later to score an equaliser, and despite Piscopo’s individual moment of brilliance coach Graham Arnold and the Australia U-23’s were forced to settle for a point.
January 11, 2020 – D’Agostino at the double again in comeback win over Thailand
Trailing 1-0 to host nation Thailand at Rajamangala National Stadium, the Green and Gold were in need of a hero to set them back on track at the 2020 AFC Championship.
Step forward, D’Agostino.
Once again the young prospect was at the double, lashing an equaliser into the bottom left corner before half time before scoring the winner with 15 minutes to play in the contest.
Staring down the barrel of a defeat and just one point from their first two games, D’Agostino’s double secured a 2-1 win which instead launched Australia to the top of Group A.
January 14, 2020 – Australia progress after Bahrain draw
Graham Arnold’s side progressed to the knockout stages of an AFC Championship campaign for the first time since 2013 with a 1-1 draw against Bahrain in the final game of the group stage.
Bahrain were in need of a win to progress but that didn’t look likely when Adelaide United striker Al Hassan Toure put Australia one goal to the good.
Bahrain equalised through Mohamed Marhoon on the stroke of half time but Australia managed to sail through the second half without conceding a second, ensuring their unbeaten run in qualifiers and the group stage continued into the knockout phase of the tournament.
January 18, 2020 – The Green and Gold squeeze past Syria to set up semi-final showdown
Australia had a date with destiny in their sights if they could beat Syria in their AFC Championship quarter-final clash, but a goalless 90 minutes set up a tense half hour of extra time to decide who would make it to the all-important semi-final.
He’d proven to be Adelaide’s X-factor throughout the FFA Cup and so Graham Arnold called on Toure off his bench to create another moment of magic with it all on the line, and that’s exactly what the 19-year-old did.
With legs tiring and extra time ticking on Brisbane Roar midfielder O’Neill split Syria’s defence in two with an inch-perfect ball in behind to find Toure who ran onto the chance to slide the ball into the back of the net with one touch from the outside of his boot.
Australia finally had the lead after 101 minutes and weren’t prepared to let go, holding out to the final whistle which brought an end to a taxing contest, sending Australia to the semi-finals and within one win of earning a place at Tokyo 2020.
January 22, 2020 - Classy Korea Republic send Australia to third-place playoff
With a spot in the AFC U-23 Championship and an automatic berth at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on the line, Korea Republic surged to a 2-0 semi-final win to send Australia to an all-or-nothing playoff match against Uzbekistan.
The contest at Thammasat Stadium was decided by two second-half goals to Kim Dae-Won and Lee Dong-Kyeong as Korea Republic capitalised on their ascendancy in a contest in which they took 21 shots to Australia's six.
The result left Australia bruised but not broken, as they immediately switched their focus to what would be their final match of the tournament: a third-place playoff against reigning champions Uzbekistan.
January 25, 2020 - D'Agostino fires Australia to Tokyo 2020
Heading into the third-place playoff against Uzbekistan with everything on the line, Graham Arnold's Australia U-23's rose to the challenge to seal a 1-0 victory and their place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
D'Agostino thought he put Australia ahead after five minutes but his goal-mouth header was disallowed after contact on Uzbekistan's goalkeeper was deemed worthy of a foul.
The first half crept on and ended in a stalemate but as the game got underway in the second stanza it was D'Agostino again showing the attacking spark.
An interception from Thomas Deng in Australia's defence led to the Perth Glory attacker finding the ball at his feet in his attacking half; D'Agostino turned and ran with the ball, splitting three defenders and curling a low effort into the bottom right corner of the net.
The solo goal was as brilliant as it was vital, as the score remained the same until full-time when manic celebrations ensued: Australia U-23's were on their way to their first Olympic Games in 12 years - an accomplishment worthy of the joyous full-time outbursts all over the ground.