(Reuters) – Australia’s coach Graham Arnold is seeking to remove any aura surrounding its Olympic football opponents by stripping away references to their previous achievements.
The Australians have been drawn to face two-time gold medallists Argentina and former winners Spain as well as Egypt in Group C, which kicks off on July 22, and Arnold wants his players to focus on the present rather than the past.
“I removed all those names because those nations have a big name and had great players in the past,” Arnold told The Australian.
“We’re not playing against those great players in the past, we’re playing a new group of players that are human beings, that’s 11 versus 11.
“The brand of the country and the history of the country can get into the subconscious mind and affect the players.
“By removing that identity I don’t expect to walk through the tunnel already one-nil down. When we walk out its an even playing field, it’s just an opponent and we play three opponents and I expect to win.”
Australia have qualified for the Olympics for the first time since 2008 after finishing third at the Asian Under 23 Championships in January 2020 and face a difficult challenge to take one of the two places on offer in the next round.
Spain’s current squad boasts Barcelona’s Pedri and Dani Olmo of RB Leipzig, both of whom starred for Spain at Euro 2020, while Argentina booked their spot by winning South America’s qualifying competition in Colombia last year.
But Arnold, who is also the head coach of the country’s senior national team, believes the postponement of the Games has allowed his young players to gain greater experience at club level in Australia.
“We are in better shape than what we would have been this time last year,” he said.
“The delay of the Olympics for a year because of Covid has meant the clubs have played the kids and they are in much better shape today than what they would have been, and that is such a positive in that sense.”
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)