Olyroos coach banking on Asia experience

April 20, 2008
By Liam FitzGibbon

Olyroos coach Graham Arnold says Australia's experience in Asian football conditions could prove the key to progressing through a tough group, including reigning champions Argentina, at the Beijing Olympics.

Australia were dealt no favours, drawing the top-ranked South Americans, emerging African power Ivory Coast and surprise European qualifiers Serbia in Group A for the tournament, starting August 7.

It looms as a daunting task for Arnold's men.

Argentina have confirmed world-class midfielders Juan Roman Riquelme and midfielder Javier Mascherano will be included among their three allowed over-age players.

Barcelona prodigy Lionel Messi is eligible to play while Ivory Coast have confirmed their squad will include Chelsea's superstar striker Didier Drogba and Arsenal defender Kolo Toure.

But Arnold believes the Olyroos' big edge could come from the valuable experience gained in playing regularly in Asia since switching from the Oceania federation in 2006.

The tournament is likely to be played in extreme humidity and temperatures as high as 35 degrees.

"Overall it's a draw that's tough but maybe, with the weather conditions and what we've learned from being involved in (Asia) the last two years could come as an advantage to us," Arnold said.

"The Serbs, the Argentines and Ivory Coast to a certain extent wouldn't have played in these type of conditions that we've had the benefit of playing in for the last couple of years."

Arnold said all three places available for senior Socceroos would likely go to attacking players.

Tournament rules allow three players over the age of 23 in each squad.

He could choose from a host of Europe-based stars including Mark Bresciano, Harry Kewell, Scott McDonald, Josh Kennedy and Tim Cahill, depending on the Everton midfielder's recovery from a knee injury.

"I've had initial discussion with every Socceroo about the possibility of coming to Olympics," Arnold said.

"All of them are keen on it, there's some players obviously that won't be able to play because they can't handle the conditions and that's another thing we'll take into consideration.

"I've still got another two months to decide ... but if you look at our defence over the past 14 games and that part of the field, I'm very happy with, we very rarely concede goals.

"At this stage (the over-age players) will be in the attacking half of the field."

Arnold said there was still "plenty of business" to do with negotiating releases for senior players, with clubs not required by FIFA to release over-age players as they are with the under 23s.

The former Socceroos caretaker coach also confirmed the selected players would not attend the opening ceremony of the Games, which is held the day after Australia's opening clash against Serbia in Shanghai on August 7.

After that they play Argentina on August 10 at the same venue and Ivory Coast at Tianjin on August 13.

The top two teams in each of the four groups progress to the quarter finals, something Arnold felt the Olyroos could repeat after doing so in Athens before losing 1-0 to Iraq.

"It's a very, very close draw to what we had in (Athens) 2004 - we had the Serbs, Argentina and Tunisia," Arnold said.

"It's nearly exactly the same draw so it's not unchartered territory for us.

"We've had a history since probably 1993 against Argentina with always drawing them in major competitions and nothing's different here."

The Olyroos will continue their preparations for Beijing with a camp in Townsville next week and will play "12 to 13" matches before the Olympics, Arnold said.

Oceania qualifiers New Zealand were drawn in Group C where they will face China, Brazil and Belgium.