Olympic dream firing Carney
© AFP

Still just 24 years of age, Australia's David Carney has accrued a wealth of experience the envy of many a veteran. And the Sheffield United midfielder, whose time in the British game has encompassed no fewer than five clubs, is set to bring that expertise to bear as one of coach Graham Arnold's over-age picks at the Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008.

A Socceroos regular at senior level, a former youth player at Merseyside club Everton, and a goalscorer for Sydney FC at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2005, Carney is sure to play a leading role in the Aussies' bid for Olympic success, starting with Thursday's Group A encounter against Serbia in Shanghai.

"Argentina are the group favourites, but the other teams are all capable of beating each other," the softly-spoken wide man told FIFA.com ahead of his side's opening game. "That's why I think that whoever wins this Thursday will have a great chance of making it through the group. We have to take this opportunity."

Indeed, failure to reach the knockout phase would no doubt trigger a wave of disappointment back home in Australia. With expectations soaring after the national team's performances at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, there is widespread belief that the Olyroos can come away from Beijing 2008 with a medal - a feat they have so far failed to achieve despite appearing in every Men's Olympic Football Tournament since 1988.

"It's true that we've not been able to make the podium as yet, but it's also true that people see us differently since the World Cup in Germany. We're hoping to be able to rise to the challenge," says Carney with conviction. And the first obstacle in their path will be European qualifiers Serbia, a match sure to be influenced by the searing heat in Shanghai.

"The lads have been on tour for the last couple of weeks and they've got used to playing in this heat," explains the Sydney-born star. "My case is a bit different though, because I only joined up with the squad last week. Anyway, we'll have to adapt our game to suit these conditions."

Five-ringed ambition
Olympic success has always been an integral part of Australian sporting culture, so it comes as no surprise to hear the fair-haired footballer enthuse about his first involvement in the elite competition. "Being part of an Olympic Games doesn't happen every day and you have to make the most of it. For me, personally, I'd love to attend the swimming events, though I won't be able to for obvious reasons."

Those reasons are coach Arnold's preparations for the match against Serbia, opponents Australia disposed of 5-1 at Athens 2004 in their previous incarnation as Serbia and Montenegro. "I don't remember much about that game from four years ago," says Carney.

"But the current team is physically very strong and we'll have to be very focused and play our best football to win. We'll have our strongest possible line-up available out on the pitch and that should make a difference."

With group favourites and holders Argentina coming up in their second match, taking all three points against the Serbs will be vital if Carney and Co wish to qualify for the next phase. "My first target is to reach the quarter-finals, and then, from that point on, keep progressing until I have a medal around my neck." And just five years after he feared for his career on leaving Goodison Park, what a remarkable turnaround that would be.