'You couldn't write what happened': Tilio looks back on journey to Argentina winner

July 22, 2021. The day the Olyroos 'shocked the world' at the Tokyo Olympics, defeating the might of Argentina in their opening encounter at the tournament. 

With Australia appearing at their first Olympic Men's Football Tournament since 2008, it was a player born in 2001 who stole the headlines, in the most unlikely fashion. 

Marco Tilio, a player with only a handful of senior appearances to his name at the time, never thought he would even be in contention for a call-up at the time. 

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Having made the move from Sydney FC to Melbourne City and catching the eye of many with a scattering of exciting cameos, there was already no doubting the young attacking livewire's potential. 

But it was only a last-minute player withdrawal and change to tournament regulations - where each squad's four 'train-on' players were converted to fully-fledged members at the eleventh hour - that saw Tilio receive the late call to fly into Tokyo. 

"I was going on holidays back home in Sydney, I'd landed on the tarmac in Sydney at the time, and I got a call from the club saying that you might be called up with the Olyroos for the Olympics," Tilio recalls. 

"Obviously, it was a big shock because I never had my hopes up or eye on going to that tournament, so I was pretty thrilled to even have that phone call.

"Then I woke up the next morning and Graham Arnold gave me a call saying that 'we want you to come to the Olympics.'" 

Genreau Tilio

Still a teenager who had represented the Young Socceroos (U-20's), the Olympics would be Tilio's first exposure to the Olyroos (U-23's) environment. 

Fortunately for him, there was a strong Melbourne City flavour to the squad selected, including the likes of Connor Metcalfe, Nathaniel Atkinson and Denis Genreau - all players who used strong campaigns at Tokyo as a platform for Socceroos selection, and club moves to Europe. 

Entering camp, Tilio "was just happy to be involved" - but as a left-footed youngster who had grown up idolising a certain Lionel Messi, he couldn't help but dream about making a splash against the Olyroos' first opponents. 

"Going into our first game against Argentina, I was really pumped to come up against a big nation like them.

"I had these thoughts about scoring a goal in this game - to live out what happened in that game was just crazy, you couldn't write what happened." 

Introduced as a late substitute with Australia stubbornly holding onto a one-goal lead, thanks to Lachie Wales' early opener, Tilio still perfectly remembers his instant impact. 

I got on and flicked the ball to Dukey in behind, I still remember it clearly, he laid it back to me on the edge of the box, I backed myself to score and it went in."

"The emotions were through the roof at the time, and it was crazy to see all the support back home in Australia and all the people that were watching the Olympics and had actually seen that goal." 


The connection between the Olyroos team who overcame Argentina and the current Socceroos are clear. 

At the time, Graham Arnold's squad only possessed one senior international: overage player Mitchell Duke.

But since then, player after player has graduated to the national team set-up - to the point that eight of Australia's starting side at September 2022's second friendly v New Zealand featured Olyroos. 

Tilio shares how the stories from that camp continue are still commonly shared around the traps. 

"The stuff off-field still comes up, just is a little bit of banter because obviously it was COVID at the time, so it was a lot of time just with ourselves and in each other's rooms and in the team room and stuff like that," he said." 

"So we still have little flashbacks of that and obviously it was an amazing tournament and a lot of the boys have gone on to do well ever since then." 

Despite having made his Socceroo debut in January 2022, and being a member of Australia's squad at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, Tilio's age means he remains eligible for the next cycle of Olympic football. 

As a result, he'll spend the upcoming June FIFA Window with the Olyroos at the prestigious Maurice Revello Tournament in France, as Tony Vidmar's side build towards qualification for Paris 2024. 

Now I have my eyes on going to the next Olympics in Paris in 2024. Hopefully we can recreate all of those memories again with the next generation of the U23's. 

"I'm just hoping to follow in the footsteps of these older players, because obviously they're doing well overseas or at their clubs and it's good to see a lot of them in the senior national team now."