Make a statement, set yourself apart: Van Egmond's challenge to aspiring Olympians

Gary Van Egmond says there are places up for grabs in Graham Arnold's Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games squad for the players currently in Spain for four upcoming friendlies who can set themselves apart and show they understand what it means to wear the Green and Gold.

Young Socceroos head coach Van Egmond is overseeing the current Australia U23 selection assembled in Marbella along with National Technical Director and Joeys Head Coach Trevor Morgan, while Arnold takes the senior side to Kuwait to continue their FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™️ qualification run. 

With a core group of U23 candidates either with the senior side or remaining home to compete in the 2020/21 A-League Finals Series, an opportunity has arisen for Van Egmond to run his eye over a squad of young prospects based largely overseas, with a number of players in the current 23-man squad receiving one final chance to impress before Arnold picks his best 18 to take to Tokyo.

READ: Australia U-23 Selection to play four friendlies in Spain

MORE: How to watch Australia U23's Marbella friendly matches

Van Egmond says the four friendlies - to be played against Republic of Ireland U-21's, Saudi Arabia, Romania and Mexico between June 2-12 - will provide vital information to himself, along with Arnold and his assistants Tony Vidmar and René Meulensteen as they look to pick the strongest squad possible to represent Australia at the Olympic Games.

"Each player, we want them to understand what it’s like for them to represent Australia and what our culture is, to ensure that when they represent Australia these are the things we need to see," Van Egmond said.

But it’s also a case of the individual. It’s a case of them being able to make a statement. I want to see what maybe sets one player apart from another.

"But again, that’s within the confines of how we do things.

"It’s a great opportunity for them. It doesn’t come around again for most of them, there are a couple of younger ones that may get the opportunity but you’ve got to take the opportunity when it comes.

"It may be a case in three years time, four years time that the men's team hasn’t qualified.

"Now is the time to ensure you’re in a good position to show what you can do, and again also how you conduct yourself is also very, very important from the perspective of the culture within the team."

"To say you’ve represented your country at the Olympics is a huge deal, particularly in our sport when we haven’t had as many (Olympic appearances) in recent times," Van Egmond added.

"We’ve seen a lot of players launch their footballing careers from this, in particularly now because it’s an U-23 competition.

"You’re on a major stage. The amount of viewing you’re going to have is massive, so again, for you to be able to play against very strong opposition, to perform, and to do well, (will) really give you the launchpad, if you like, to have a move to a big club in Europe. 

...the whole basis of it is if you’re effective, there’ll be a  consequence of that effectiveness. And that’s what we want to see.

Daniel Arzani is one player looking to force his way into Arnold's Olympic plans in the current U-23 squad
Daniel Arzani is one player looking to force his way into Arnold's Olympic plans in the current U23 squad

The standard of opposition for the Olyroos in Marbella provides the perfect environment for Van Egmond and Morgan to assess how the 23 selected players cope against opponents similar to those waiting to meet Australia in Group C at the Olympic Games.

Besides the Republic of Ireland U-21 side, three of Australia's opponents for the friendlies in Spain (Saudi Arabia, Romania, Mexico) will compete at the Games.

Van Egmond says along with the initial excitement of simply returning to playing competitive football, he's eager to see how the European-based players fare in the absence of the players well known to Arnold with whom he initially qualified for Tokyo 2020 with a third-place finish at the AFC U-23 Championship.

"I’m really excited, first and foremost to get back on the field," he said.

"It’s been such a difficult time with COVID, and now we’re in a position where we can go overseas, have a look at these players that are largely European based to see the level that they’re at, and giving them the opportunity to possibly become Olympians. 

"Really good opposition, a real cross-section of opposition in regards to different playing styles.

"Again, the players will get a really good opportunity to show their wares against all those teams.

"And from that, it will then be the discussion with Graham Arnold, René (Meulensteen) and Tony Vidmar in regards to how we then balance that with the A-League boys that are obviously competing within the A-League Finals coming up, and see how we can select the best 18."

Marbella Squad
The Australia U23 assembly in Spain are preparing for a busy run of friendly fixtures

Match 1: Australia v Republic of Ireland (U21)
Date: Wednesday, 2 June 2021
Venue: Marbella Football Centre, Marbella, Spain
Kick-off: 1:00pm local; 9:00pm AEST
Live Stream: YouTube Channel.

Match 2: Australia U23 v Saudi Arabia U23
Date: Saturday, 5 June 2021
Venue: Estadio Municipal, Marbella, Spain
Kick-off: 2:00pm local; 10pm AEST
Live Stream: YouTube Channel.

Match 3: Australia U23 v Romania U23 
Date: Tuesday, 8 June 2021
Venue: Estadio Municipal, Marbella, Spain
Kick-off: 8:00pm local; 4:00am AEST Wednesday, 9 June 
Live Stream: YouTube Channel.

Match 4: Australia U23 v Mexico U23
Date: Saturday, 12 June 2021
Venue: Estadio Municipal, Marbella, Spain
Kick-off: 8:00pm local; 4:00am AEST Sunday, 13 June 
Live Stream: YouTube Channel.

MORE: How to watch Australia U23's Marbella friendly matches