Australia's "Olyroos" are regular entrants in the men's tournament, having qualified for every edition of the event since 1988. Although yet to receive a medal, they came very close in Barcelona in 1992, reaching the semi-finals only to be thrashed by eventual silver medallists Poland. They also emerged from their first-round groups in 1988 and 2004, but found the first knockout round too much for them on both occasions. Ironically, their poorest ever performance came on home turf; the 2000 Olympic team lost all three of their games.
Long accustomed to the less demanding Oceania confederation, Australian teams have found the AFC a tougher testing ground, and the men's Olympic team is no exception. Australia's Dutch Technical Director, Rob Baan, steered the side through the opening group of the tournament, where they sealed qualification for the second stage with an emphatic 4-0 away win in Jordan. The baton was then passed to former Socceroos coach Graham Arnold, who achieved qualification for Beijing on the final matchday of the second phase. With Australia needing only a draw to finish ahead of Iraq, the Olyroos looked in trouble when their hosts Korea DPR took an early lead. With 19 minutes to go, central defender and captain Mark Milligan headed Australia level, and the Olyroos had made it.
Milligan has already made his mark at full international level, putting in two excellent performances for the Socceroos at the 2007 AFC Asian Cup. Other players to watch out for are set-piece specialist Kristian Sarkies, who was highly influential during the qualifiers, and striker Mark Bridge, who scored the winning goal in the 2008 A-League grand final. Graham Arnold, however, has bolstered his squad with the permitted three over-age players as well. "You go to the Olympics to succeed, and you can strengthen the side by using these (senior) players," he said.
Facts and figures
Graham Arnold (1988), Frank Farina (1988), Mark Viduka (2000), Tim Cahill (2004).
Six games won, five drawn and one lost in twelve games; 18 goals scored, five conceded.
The numbers game
6: the number of consecutive Men's Olympic Football Tournaments that the Olyroos have now qualified for.