No goals, no Paris for Olyroos

Qatar v Australia - AFC U23 Asian Cup Group A
Disappointed Olyroos players ponder their side’s failure to qualify for the Olympics. Picture: Mohamed Farag/Getty Images

The lack of goals that has cost the Olyroos the chance to play at this year’s Paris Olympics has the nation’s football boss demanding that strikers be allowed to play to their strengths rather than be “coached like defenders”.

Australia’s limp AFC under-23 Asian Cup campaign came to an end on Monday morning (AEST) with a 0-0 draw against tournament hosts Qatar.

Needing a win to have any hope of reaching of the quarter-finals and keeping their slim chance of Olympic Games qualification alive, the Olyroos again shot blanks to finish the tournament without scoring, having drawn 0-0 with Jordan and lost 1-0 to Indonesia in their previous two Group A matches.

The Olyroos’ failure to score a goal in three games again raises questions about the decision not to pick A-League prodigy and Bayern Munich-bound teenager Nestory Irankunda in the squad.

Qatar v Australia - AFC U23 Asian Cup Group A
Dejected Olyroos goalkeeper Patrick Beach reflects on his side’s failure to qualify for the Paris Olympics. Picture: Mohamed Farag/Getty Images

However, Football Australia’s chief football officer Ernie Merrick said the absence of goals was due to the way emerging strikers were being coached.

“We don’t produce the strikers that we used to,” Merrick said.

“We need to improve the way we coach strikers more than anything. Strikers are very creative players but we coach them like defenders, which is pretty scientific stuff really about pressurising and squeezing into concentrated areas ... which is fairly prescriptive.

“When you’re working with creative players you’ve got to give them the opportunity to be creative, and say `we want you in the box when the ball’s in there but how you get there’s up to you whether you dribble or play a wall-pass, or something else.”

“That’s an area we really have to improve our player development in.

The closest the Australians came to scoring against Qatar came in the 75th minute when substitute Keegan Jelacic had a shot that was tipped on to the post by goalkeeper Ali Nader Mahmoud.

Olyroos captain Jacob Italiano also had a good chance two minutes before halftime but his shot flew over the crossbar.

“It’s very frustrating,” Italiano said.

“We fought right until the very end, we pinned Qatar back the whole game, we felt like we deserved but sometimes that’s football. and it didn’t fall for us today.”

Even if the Olyroos had won the match, it wouldn’t have been enough to reach the last eight, with Indonesia’s 4-1 victory against Jordan taking them to six points and locking in second spot in Group A and progression to the quarter-finals with group winners Qatar, who finished with seven points.

The Olyroos came third in group with two points, one more than Jordan.

“We’re very disappointed in the results, but we can go home knowing that we gave absolutely everything,” Italiano said.

“It just wasn’t to be in this tournament, but we know we gave all we could.”

The nations that finish the tournament in the top three will qualify for the Olympics, while the fourth-placed team will meet the fourth-ranked African nation, Guinea, in a playoff for a spot in Paris.

Merrick, who guided Melbourne Victory to two A-League championships, sympathised with Olyroos coach Tony Vidmar, who wasn’t able to get his squad together on many occasions before the tournament.

“Tony Vidmar at Olympic level has been pretty unfortunate in that the players haven’t been together enough. He’s been up against it,” Merrick said.