The football tournaments at this year’s Tokyo Olympic Games is set to have a distinct Green and Gold flavour.
The Westfield Matildas’ win over Vietnam on Wednesday night means they join the Olyroos to book their spot in Japan later this year.
And it’s an historic achievement, marking the first time in 16 years – since Athens in 2004 - that both the Australian men’s and women’s teams are going to the Olympics.
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How they got there
Olyroos: It was a very different path for Arnold’s side, which began a year ago at the AFC Championship Qualifiers. After big wins over Cambodia and Chinese Taipei (both 6-0), a final game 2-2 draw with Korea Republic – thanks to Nick D’Agostino’s brace – saw Australia’s U23’s qualify for the tournament.
Needing to finish in the top three at the AFC U23 Championship in January, Australia went through the group stage unbeaten, with draws against Iraq and Bahrain (both 1-1) either side of a 2-1 win over Thailand enough to advance as group winners.
It took extra-time to get past Syria 1-0 in the quarter finals thanks to Al Hassan Toure’s goal, before a Semi Final loss to Korea Republic set up a winner-takes-all third-place play-off against Uzbekistan. And D’Agostino was again the hero, with his classy individual goal enough for a 1-0 win and sent the Olyroos to the Olympics for the first time in 12 years.
Westfield Matildas: Having received a bye for the first two rounds, the Westfield Matildas came up against China PR, Thailand and Chinese Taipei in the group stage in Round 3 of qualifying. And Milicic’s side topped the group with big wins over Chinese Taipei (7-0) and Thailand (6-0) before a 1-1 draw with China PR - thanks to Emily van Egmond's dramatic late goal - gave Australia the edge on goal difference.
Vietnam were the final round opponents over two legs, with the Westfield Matildas setting up their progression with a 5-0 drubbing in the first match in Newcastle last Friday. Wednesday night’s 2-1 win in Vietnam completed a 7-1 aggregate victory and booked Australia’s spot at the games.
What they said
Olyroos goal-scoring hero Nick D'Agostino: “I can’t really put it into words at the moment. I’m just so happy.
“This was the goal we set out to achieve when before we cam here and now that it’s finally come true. It hasn’t really kicked in yet I don’t think.”
Westfield Matildas attacker Hayley Raso: “It feels incredible. I wasn’t around the team last time this happened for them so it’s extra special for me and I am so excited to be here and be a part of it all.
“I think we could have bagged a few more goals out there, the ‘keeper made a few really good saves but in the end a win is a win and we are really stoked.”
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What happened in 2004?
The Westfield Matildas were placed in a difficult group alongside USA, Brazil and host-nation Greece. Despite losing their opening game to Brazil, Australia bounced back to beat Greece 1-0 before a late Joey Peters goal salvaged a 1-1 draw with the USA to confirm their spot in the Quarter Finals. But that’s as far as the Westfield Matildas would go, beaten 2-1 by Sweden. The USA won Gold, beating Brazil 2-1 in the final.
The Olyroos came up against Argentina, Serbia and Montenegro and Tunisia in their group and began with a 1-1 draw with the Africans with John Aloisi the goal-scorer. Aloisi scored a double – with Tim Cahill also on the score sheet – in the next match in a 5-1 win over Serbia and Montenegro, before a narrow 1-0 loss to an Argentina side featuring the likes of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano in the final group match. While the Olyroos advanced to the last eight, they were knocked out 1-0 by Iraq, with Argentina winning Gold by beating fellow South Americans Paraguay 1-0 in the final.
When are the Olympics on?
The Olympics begin on Wednesday, July 22, which is when the opening group game for the Westfield Matildas will be played. They will play further group games on July 25 (Saturday) and July 28 (Tuesday). The Gold Medal match is set down for Friday, August 7.
The Olyroos begin their Olympic campaign on Thursday, July 23 and will play their remaining group games on Sunday, July 26 and Wednesday, July 29. The men’s final is scheduled for the final day of the Olympics on Saturday, August 8.