The Olyroos have been undone by a late own goal in their AFC U-23 Championship opener, going down 1-0 against the UAE at Doha’s Grand Hamad Stadium on Friday morning (AEDT).
In a match of few clear cut chances the Olyroos were unable to make their weight of possession count, with Giancarlo Gallifuoco unfortunate to turn the ball into his own net with five minutes remaining to decide the contest.
The critical moment came from a set-piece when the Olyroos were unable to fully deal with a UAE corner.
After initially clearing their lines the ball was whipped back into the Olyroos' six-yard box, Gallifuoco tried to clear the danger with the UAE’s Abdulla Mohd about to pull the trigger but his connection ended up in the back of the net.
Coach Aurelio Vidmar’s starting side featured seven players from the Hyundai A-League for the Group D clash, with Ryan Edwards wearing the captain’s armband.
With a place at the 2016 Rio Olympics on the line at the tournament both sides got off to a tentative start but the Olyroos settled quickest, Jamie Maclaren spooning an early chance over the bar.
Much of the opening play stemmed down the Olyroos left flank, with Alex Gersbach combing well with Connor Pain, while UAE right winger Abdulla Mohd was the primary outlet for their opposition.
Melbourne Victory defender Scott Galloway earned the first corner of the match when his shot from distance cannoned off the defence, but the UAE were able to deal with the set-piece.
There was a heart-stopping moment 15 minutes in when last man James Donachie had to stretch for a wayward back pass with opposition striker Sultan Saif Sultan breathing down his neck.
The Brisbane Roar defender committed a foul challenging for the ball, earning a booking from the referee, but the Olyroos were able to negotiate the resulting free-kick.
The Olyroos high press consistantly troubled their opposition as the half wore on, with Edwards and Josh Brillante ensuring the Aussies dominated possession in the centre of the park.
Meanwhile Brisbane Roar striker Jamie Maclaren was a terrier up front, his pressure nearly intercepting a pass from the UAE’s goalkeeper midday through the half.
The UAE had a great chance to open the scoring when Abdalla Ghanim Alalawi was played in behind the Olyroos lines inside the box but Alex Gersbach was quick to react and able to smother his cross at the byline.
Goalkeeper Jack Duncan was smartly across to save a shot from outside the box with five remaining in the half, which was the UAE’s only shot on target in the first 45.
Abdullah Misfir’s side got more of a foothold on the match in the second stanza but Connor Pain had a great chance to open the scoring when he skewed a left-footed shot just wide of the back-post on the hour mark.
A nervy moment unfolded when Steven Ugarkovic turned the ball into his own net from a cross but the goal was ruled out with the UAE attacker ruled to be offside.
A misread in defence from a goalkick nearly brought the Olyroos undone shortly after, with an unmarked Waleed Ambar able to descend on goal.
The substitute unleashed a ferocious, swerving shot from distance forcing a brilliant diving save from Duncan to retain parity.
Mustafa Amini, Jaushua Sotirio and Terry Antonis all entered the fray in the second-half as the Olyroos chased all three points but it was Gallifuoco’s unfortunate error that ultimately separated the sides.
The Olyroos next play Vietnam on Sunday night, followed by Jordan as they seek to finish top two in their group to progress to the knock-out phase.
United Arab Emirates 1 (Giancarlo Gallifuoco 85’OG)
Olyroos Lineup: 1. Jack Duncan (gk), 3. Giancarlo Gallifuoco, 4. James Donachie, 6. Josh Brillante, 7. Andrew Hoole, 8. Ryan Edwards (c), 9. Jamie Maclaren, 11. Connor Pain (17. Jaushua Sotirio 77’), 15. Scott Galloway (14. Terry Antonis 80’), 16. Steven Ugarkovic (10. Mustafa Amini 64’), 20. Alex Gersbach
Unused Substitutes: 2. Jason Geria, 5. Cameron Burgess, 12. Aaron Lennox (gk), 13. Stefan Mauk, 18. John Hall (gk), 19. Brandon O’Neill, 21. Brandon Borrello, 22. Adam Taggart, 23. Thomas Deng
Yellow Cards: Donachie 16’, Brillante 59’
Red Cards: None
Referee: Abdulrahman Al-Jassim (Qatar)