Australia’s fearless approach wins Olympic opener vs. Argentina

The first ever men’s Olympic rugby sevens tournament kicked off here in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with a stunning victory over arch rival Argentina. The Aussies didn’t waste any time getting on the scoreboard, scoring their first try in the 2nd minute of play. A second try in the 11th minute gave the Aussies a comfortable lead at the break. The game stayed close in the second half, with Australia’s fearless approach winning the game with a try in the final minute of play. The Aussies will play Brazil in the gold medal game, while Argentina will take on Great Britain for the bronze medal.

It’s always a good sign for any team when they get off to a flying start in a series of friendlies ahead of the start of the Aussie season. The Socceroos had secured a comprehensive 6-0 win over the Belize national team in Sydney on Monday, with all goals coming in the opening 45 minutes of the game. A few days prior, the Socceroos had posted a 2-0 win over New Zealand as well.

Stephanie Rice’s courage in playing down a sore lower back — which may have cost her a spot in the Australian Olympic team — helped the underdog beat Argentina.. Read more about argentina vs australia olympic lineup and let us know what you think.

On their first appearance at an Olympic Games since 2008, Australia’s men got off to a victorious start. Getty Images/ASANO IKKO/AFP

On Thursday, Australia made their Olympic comeback with a 2-0 victory against South American powerhouse Argentina, advancing to the top of what might be the hardest group of the men’s football competition at the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Lachlan Wales of Western United converted Sydney FC defender Joel King’s 14th-minute cross to put Australia up in Sapporo, before Melbourne City prodigy Marco Tilio sealed the victory with only his second touch in the 80th minute.

Getting the table ready

Few would have anticipated that Australia would have stood a chance against Argentina based on a cursory assessment (more on that later); the two countries’ footballing pedigrees are approximately equal to one of the Westminster Kennel Club’s best and that mutt who lives down the street. Despite the disparity in renown, the first 45 minutes in the Sapporo Dome wonderfully set the tone for one of Olyroo’s most memorable victories.

After a promising start, King and Wales’ combination was a near perfect illustration of how coach Graham Arnold likes his sides to play: wing-backs going forward to support an assault that pushes forward with speed, strength, and fearlessness.

With their strategy confirmed and their opponents proving to be far from the ruthless behemoths that their reputation indicated, Australia’s early goal helped to calm the XI in green’s anxieties while also forcing the Albiceleste to push the issue. While the Argentines’ continued possession of the ball throughout the first half caused some nervous moments, which was to be expected given their attacking prowess, it also provided the Australians with an opportunity to keep them honest by consistently threatening in transition, picking their moments, and playing with confidence.

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At the back, Harry Souttar and Thomas Deng, two of the team’s most experienced players, shone as they calmly dealt with Argentina’s Adolfo Gaich and Alexis Mac Allister, both of whom have been capped at senior level. Nathaniel Atkinson and Nathaniel King were given carte blanche to continue their marauding runs forward and harassing of the Argentine back four, with the former’s tireless efforts to get forward leading to the moment of insanity that resulted in Australia’s other major first-half boon: Francisco Ortega’s dismissal.

Ortega got his marching orders after he made contact with Riley McGree on the following set piece, having been booked for his last-ditch tackle on the Melbourne City winger seconds earlier. Replays reveal that not only was the card controversial, but that the collision was initiated by the 22-year-old being pushed forward by his own goalie.

Despite having 62 percent control and nine shots before halftime, none of Argentina’s efforts bothered goalkeeper Tom Glover, while Australia may have been unlucky not to score a second goal via one of their counter-attacking opportunities or McGree’s daring bicycle-kick attempt. After surviving an onslaught of Argentine attacks and a series of yellow-card decisions that appeared to be make-up calls by the referee, Arnold’s side and their one-man advantage were able to coast through the second 45 minutes with a level of ease few could have predicted coming into the game, with Tilio’s 80th-minute thunderbolt sealing a deserved victory.

In the context of the game

It’s appropriate that Argentina was on the receiving end of the Olyroos’ 2-0 victory, which ended a 13-year hiatus from the Olympics. Both the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games saw the two countries battle. Australia fell 1-0 to the eventual gold medalists on both occasions, although considering the quality of their opponents in Athens and Beijing, these were hardly humiliating losses.

Willy Caballero, Javier Mascherano, and Carlos Tevez, as well as overage players Roberto Ayala and Kily Gonzalez, were all part of the Argentine squad in 2004, and in 2008, they deployed Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, and Angel Di Mara as U23s, while Mascherano and Juan Roman Riquelme were overage representatives.

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While Thursday’s victory was a significant confidence boost, this Argentina team should not be misunderstood for having the same degree of world-beating potential as their predecessors — coach Fernando Batista’s team is clearly on the developing track in 2021.

None of the eight players of Argentina’s recent Copa America winning team who were also eligible to compete in the Olympics are now in Japan. Only one member of the team had played for Argentina at the senior level, Mac Allister, while the only overage player there was uncapped goalkeeper Jeremias Ledesma. Boca Juniors and River Plate players, as well as a handful of undisclosed Europe-based players, are all missing from the Copa Libertadores, which started recently.

It would be churlish to dampen the Olyroos’ well-deserved celebrations, but with a Spanish side full of senior internationals, including breakout Euro 2020 stars Dani Olmo and Pedri, waiting in the next game, the proper context of Thursday’s win should be maintained and expectations managed accordingly. Before Australia can start thinking of a medal, there is still a long way to go. However, with Spain having been held by Egypt earlier on Thursday, Australia now knows that if they win on Sunday, they will be assured a spot in the quarterfinals with a game to spare.

The whole world is watching you.

The days of a player earning a big-time transfer off the back of a good tournament are largely over, thanks to the wealth of data available to clubs and their scouting departments in contemporary football. This implies that virtually every youngster that attends a junior tournament is already on the radar of clubs, and a string of good performances may bolster a player’s value to an already interested party.

If Atkinson’s form with Melbourne City over the last two years has piqued the interest of any prospective suitors, his relentless effort down the right side in Sapporo may have just prompted them to pick up the phone and contact his Casey employers. At only 22 years old, the Tasmanian will almost likely become a Socceroo at the earliest chance, and interested teams would do well to get in on the ground floor before interest in him grows any more.

Denis Genreau, King, and Metcalfe, all of whom are located in Australia, have seen the similar increase in their fame. The Olympic Games, as a U23 event in which clubs may ban their players from competing, do not have the same degree of reputation as the stages that these young players would have hoped to compete in.

More performances like the ones against Argentina, on the other hand, may open doors not just to the bright lights of European football, but also to development that could be a huge help to the Socceroos in the coming years.

The Australians were desperate, and they were not going to let Argentina pass them in the race for a gold medal.. Read more about australia vs argentina basketball and let us know what you think.

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