Qantas Under 23s History

There is no doubt the two biggest sporting events in the world are the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games. While the FIFA World Cup is totally devoted to the sport of football, the Olympics has a multitude of sports, of which football is one of the major competitions.

The football tournament at the Olympics has become a major stepping stone for many future Qantas Socceroos, as it-s for players under 23 years of age and is the last of the restricted age limit tournaments among the men. The women-s Olympic tournament is still open to the senior women-s national team of participating countries.


Australia-s first two appearances in Olympic tournaments saw the senior men-s team participate, but in 1992 the eligibility was restricted to Under 23 players only, while in 1996, it was decided to allow teams to choose three over-age players in the final squads.

In 1956, Australia qualified as hosts of the Olympics in Melbourne, winning the first round game against Japan 2-0. A Bruce Morrow double in the second round against India was not enough, as the Qantas Under 23s bowed out 4-2 to the nimble Indians.

It was another 32 years before Australia participated in its next Olympic Games, after the amateur restrictions were lifted after the 1984 Olympics. In Seoul, Australia caused one of the major upsets in Olympic Games football history, beating 84-bronze medallists Yugoslavia, who were considered one of the favourites in 1988. Australia qualified for the quarter finals after beating Nigeria 1-0 in their third game, having lost to Brazil in its second game. The quarter finals saw Australia lose 3-0, who went to win the final 2-1 against Brazil.

In 1992, Australia, as Oceania winners, needed to qualify for the Barcelona Olympics in a play-off against the Netherlands. Despite having the bulk of the team that made the semi finals of the 1991 World Youth Championship in Portugal, Australia was not expected to offer too much resistance against the star-studded Dutch team.

After a 1-1 draw at home, the Dutch looked as though they would advance when they led 2-1 late in the game. Then came one of the most spectacular goals in Australian history, when Ned Zelic hugging the by-line deceived the Dutch keeper, who thought he was crossing the ball, by stroking his shot from the narrowest of angles in between him and the post for an equalising goal that sent Australia though on the away goals rule.

The Olympics themselves proved just as successful, with Australia making the semi finals and eventually finishing fourth. They almost didn-t get past the group stage, but a magnificent 3-0 win in its final group game against Denmark got them through to a quarter final meeting with Sweden, which they won 2-1. However the effects of the hard campaign took its toll in the semi final, where they lost 6-1 to a very good Polish side.

Australia was once again forced to go through two forms of qualifying for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, winning through to a play-off with Canada after qualifying comfortably as Oceania Champions. A 2-2 draw in the opening leg and then a 5-0 thrashing in the second leg, saw Australia qualify and with fairly high expectations.

An opening loss to France was followed by a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia in the group games, with a crunch do-or-die game against Spain. Aurelio Vidmar, one of Australia-s three over-age players, gave Australia an early 2-0 lead, but inspired by Raul, Spain surged back and eventually took the game 3-2 and Australia was disappointingly out of the tournament.

However if 1996 was disappointing, it pales into insignificance, compared to Australia-s showing at it-s home Olympics in Sydney in 2000. Despite losing key players Harry Kewell and Paul Okon (over-age player) on the eve of the tournament, the team was still expected to perform well.

The opening match against a star-studded Italian side, played at a packed MCG, saw Australia match their rivals until a late defensive error was pounced upon and a heart-breaking loss. Australia could not afford another loss, but faced a very talented Nigerian side and lost 3-2 and so before we knew it; we were out of the tournament. Another loss in the final game against Honduras only served to compound the frustration suffered by every Australian.

For the first time, Oceania-s qualifying champion would go automatically through to the 2004 Athens Olympics. After qualifying narrowly against the gallant Kiwi-s, opinions as to Australia-s chances were varied, especially with captain Ljubo Milicevic ruled out after injuring his groin in the qualifiers.

Over-age players John Aloisi, Tim Cahill and Craig Moore certainly made a difference, as Australia made it through to the quarter finals, which included a 5-1 hammering of Serbia-Montenegro. A narrow loss to eventual winners Argentina in their third group game, gave Australia optimism for the quarter final against Iraq. Despite dominating the game, Australia couldn-t buy a goal and in the end were sunk by a speculative overhead kick. Significantly Moore was missing from the game through suspension.

Olympic Games Football Tournaments (Under 23 record only)

4 appearances - 16 matches - 4 wins - 2 draws - 10 losses

1956 - Melbourne - 2nd round (senior) 1988 - Seoul - 2nd in group - lost quarter final against Russia (eventual winners) (senior) 1992 - Barcelona - 2nd in group - won quarter final - lost semi final - lost 3rd/4th play-off 1996 - Atlanta - 3rd in group - Did not progress 2000 - Sydney - 4th in group - Did not progress 2004 - Athens - 2nd in group - lost quarter final against Iraq 2008 - Beijing - 3rd in group - Did not progress