Australia fell to a penalty shootout defeat to Qatar in their opening game of the Maurice Revello Tournament on Tuesday, picking up a point for the 0-0 draw that preceded the spot kicks only to watch the bonus point on offer go to their largely toothless foes.
The Qataris converted all four of their penalties, while Josh Rawlins had his penalty saved by Yousef Balideh to surrender the shootout initiative before Calem Nieuwenhof skied his attempt, sealing the defeat.
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It was a cruel blow for the Australians, who were denied what looked like an almost certain late winner in the 94th minute when Noah Botic was thrown to the ground on the edge of the box by Mohamed Ayash in a desperate attempt to stop his one-on-one breakaway, earning a red card. Balideh subsequently denied Garang Kuol's free kick, forcing the game to penalties.
They had controlled the game without looking convincing throughout the contest, seeing plenty of the ball and creating enough shots without ever truly putting Balideh's net in true peril. The Olyroos' best chance of the game came in the 23rd minute when Brighton & Hove Albion starlet Cameron Peupion broke down the right and whipped a ball onto the head of Botic, only for the Western United striker's header to be denied by a wickedly sharp save.
Control without domination
With Qatar attempting to build out from the back, the Olyroos early press was given the chance to pin their ears back and it had some early success. Adopting a 4-2-4 shape out of possession, with Louis D'Arrigo pushing forward next to Botic in support, Vidmar's side were able to almost entirely pin their opponents in their own half throughout the early stages of the contest, almost creating the opening goal in just the fourth minute when they forced a turnover inside the Qatari penalty area.
But eventually, the fading energy and a drinks break broke the momentum and Qatar began to have a bit more joy getting out of their half of the field. Even so, they were unable to create any chances of note beyond Khaled Ali Binsabaa's long-range effort off the outside of the post in the 33rd. After 45 minutes, Australia had sent eight shots in on goal, with four on target, compared to Qatar's one.
That trend continued in the second stanza, with both sides experiencing cramps and doing even less pressing. But with better players and marginally more intent, the Olyroos ended up winning the possession battle 60-40 and sent in 14 shots, with seven on target, compared to Qatar's two by the full-time whistle. In theory, enough for a goal.
The real Aussie DNA
For all that nominal control of the ball, however, the Olyroos, as is seemingly the curse with all junior (and sometimes senior) Australian representative sides, struggled to break down and create clear chances against an embedded defence of a half-decent opposition. Marlee Francois showed some early energy, Peupion was good (more on that below), and Botic worked well in holding the ball up and had a few chances but it wasn't a day of captivating attacking displays. Kuol, likewise, provided a spark but failed to turn that into any kind of ignition when he came on.
Aside from Botic's aforementioned headed effort, very few of the shots that the Olyroos made were of a nature that forced keeper Balideh to do much in the way of work, some sent in without significant pressure and others wide on target. Indeed, despite their control of the ball, there was very little to suggest that the Qatari back-line was ever being forced to truly scramble and get desperate as the game went on, instead content to sit back, read the play, and swarm to the ball when a cross or attempted shot arose.
Fatigue would have also played a factor at the end of a long season and, especially at the start of a cycle when familiarity is low, it's easier to set up to defend rather than attack, but the game began to drag as the second half wore on, with the Olyroos mostly playing at the same tempo and, thus, playing into their foe's hands.
Arriving late into camp because of A-League Men Grand Final duties, the likes of Jordy Bos and, especially, Marco Tilio will hopefully add a bit more incision and drive the Olyroos next contest on Friday but more drive from the midfield will also be needed.
Newly minted as Australia's latest Premier League player after he came off the bench in Brighton's 4-1 loss to Newcastle United last month, Peupion was a notable performer for the Olyroos on the flank in what was an otherwise disappointing day.
Positive in possession and willing to take his opponent on while out on the wing, as well as contribute to the press, the 20-year-old was Australia's best player across the first half and would have had an assist if Botic's header wasn't denied at the last. Further high turnovers and chances created followed in the second half before he was subbed off for Kuol in the 68th minute.
Socceroos coach Graham Arnold might have indicated earlier on Tuesday that he was set to have face-to-face conversations with Italian-Australian attacker Cristian Volpato in an effort to lure him into the Australian fold but, with a player like Peupion coming through to add to the Socceroos' current attacking stocks, the AS Roma prospect might find his path to playing time in green and gold quite a difficuly one as well.
Best and worst performers
Best: Cameron Peupion, Australia -- The standout player in the Olyroos attack, the 20-year-old showed his Premier League pedigree.
Best: Mohamed Ayash, Qatar -- Saw red and will miss Qatar's game against Mexico because of his cynical challenge on Botic but played an otherwise key role in keeping the Olyroos at bay. He also got forward in the 71st minute and had his side's second (and last) chance on goal when he met a free kick at the back post with a shot straight at keeper Nicholas Bilokapic.
Best: Yousef Balideh, Qatar -- The 20-year-old keeper was forced into a few sharp saves throughout the contest, none more impressive when he reacted quickly to deny Botic's 23rd-minute header.
Best: Noah Botic, Australia -- Should probably have scored his headed effort but held the ball up and linked well with teammates. Should start netting if he keeps getting in the right positions and is a bit more desperate.
Worst: Ryan Teague and Calem Nieuwenhof, Australia: They weren't bad, bad -- the former, especially, grew a bit more into the game -- but neither midfielder was able to drive forward and provide the Olyroos with the impetus they needed.
Worst: Qatar's Attack -- The Qatari front-line pretty much entirely anonymous throughout the entire game, with their penalty shootout papering over the cracks that this was not a good game from them at all.
Highlights and Notable Moments
After some great work by Peupion to get down the right and whip in a ball, Botic was just unable to steer his header far away enough from Balideh.
With Qatar's first real chance, Ali Binsabaa hit the post.
⚽️💥🇶🇦 Première grosse occasion pour le Qatar dans ce match !— Tournoi Maurice Revello #TMR2023 (@TournoiMRevello) June 6, 2023
Belle reprise de volée du numéro 10, Khaled Binsabaa.
Voir le match en direct sur https://t.co/z3BK3mlTgP
➡️https://t.co/515WtZ11h3#QATAUS #TMR2023 pic.twitter.com/BSTR2mQbvr
Kuol's late attempt to win it with a free kick was saved by Balideh.
🇦🇺⚡️Après une deuxième mi-temps très fermée, Garang Kuol manque l'occasion d'offrir la victoire aux Socceroos. Les équipes vont se départager sur une séance de tirs aux buts !— Tournoi Maurice Revello #TMR2023 (@TournoiMRevello) June 6, 2023
Voir le match en direct sur https://t.co/z3BK3mmr6n
➡️https://t.co/515WtZ1z6B#QATAUS #TMR2023 pic.twitter.com/xVPC3kOsmi
Nieuwenhof then skied his penalty to hand Qatar the bonus point.
🇶🇦🔥C'est fini ! Le Qatar obtient un point en plus après sa victoire lors des tirs aux buts (0-0, 4-3 tab). Le milieu de terrain australien Calem Nieuwenhof a raté son penalty. #QATAUS #TMR2023 pic.twitter.com/KyZa6HN9XK— Tournoi Maurice Revello #TMR2023 (@TournoiMRevello) June 6, 2023
- This is the 49th edition of the Maurice Revello Tournament -- formerly known as the Toulon Tournament -- but the first time Australia are participating.
- Qatar is playing in its seventh edition but is yet to win a game inside 90 minutes.
- Australia had 14 shots to Qatar's two, had 60% possession and played 149 more passes at a 10% more accurate rate than Qatar, but couldn't find the net.
Australia: After Togo's withdrawal from the tournament, the Olyroos' next chance to pick up points will come on Friday evening, when they take on a Mediterranean Selection, with kicks-off at 10:00 p.m. AEDT.
Qatar: Their smash-and-grab bonus point secure, Qatar will next face off with Mexico on Friday.