Daniel Arzani returns as Australia prepare to tackle Olympic ‘group of dreams’

Sport

Daniel Arzani will return from his three-year international hiatus to headline an Olympics squad coach Graham Arnold says will “shock the world”.

Socceroos regular Mitchell Duke and recent national-team debutant Riley McGree will also lead the Olyroos attack at the Tokyo Games, where Australia will play Spain, Argentina and Egypt in the group stage of their first Olympics since Beijing in 2008.

Arzani has fallen off the radar since his breakout performances at the 2018 World Cup earned the then teenager a high-profile move from Melbourne City to parent club Manchester City and then on loan to Celtic.

After rupturing his ACL on debut for the Scottish club in November 2018, he has made 12 club appearances – most as a substitute – over three seasons and hopped around on loan. In January, having been relegated to the reserves at Dutch club Utrecht, he was released to join Danish outfit AGF Aarhus.

Now 22, Arzani has a chance to change the course of his career, bolting into Arnold’s 18-man squad – 13 of whom are A-League players – which will begin their campaign against Argentina on 22 July.

“We want to help resurrect his career,” Arnold said. “Sitting down with Daniel, he looks extremely fit, he looks really well.

“Things haven’t gone his way over the last couple of years. All those high expectations put on him after Russia in 2018, and some cameos off the bench at Melbourne City, it hasn’t gone the way that he wanted to.

“What do we do? Help the kid or burn him out? Daniel is a great talent, we want to … put him on the world stage and move the kid forward.”

Group C is perceived as the group of death, but Arnold was bullish about the Olyroos’ chances of progressing.

“My expectations are that we are going to shock the world and we are going to go out there, play on the front foot,” he said. “We’re not going to go out there trying not to lose the game, we are going out there expecting to win the game and it doesn’t matter who we play.

“The players that have been selected, they are all excited, they are all grateful for the opportunity and the chance. The strength of the Socceroos is the Olyroos and I do expect these kids to really step up.

“People might want to look at it as a ‘group of death’ but for me it is a ‘group of dreams’. It is what you dream about, and you want to play these types of teams and test yourself against the best in the world.”

Duke, 30, and Ruon Tongyik, 24, have been named as the squad’s overage players, with Arnold filling only two of the three overage spots available. All others must be under 23, though a rule adjustment to cater for the Games’ one-year delay means all players who were eligible for the initial competition dates in 2020 remain eligible.

South Sudan-born defender Tongyik debuted for the Socceroos in their recent World Cup qualifiers.

“Our community is going to be very, very happy for me,” Tongyik said. “Seeing someone like myself, the history, all the trials and tribulations that I have been through as a player and as a person as well. People that I know and I do look up to, players, friends and family, they are going to be very stoked for me and I am very happy to be able to represent them as well.”

Also in the squad is Scotland-born Socceroos defender Harry Souttar, Melbourne City A-League champions Nathaniel Atkinson, Connor Metcalfe, and Tom Glover, and 19-year-old Caleb Watts, who made his Premier League debut for Southampton last season.

Olyroos squad: Daniel Arzani, Nathaniel Atkinson, Keanu Baccus, Nicholas D’Agostino, Thomas Deng, Mitchell Duke, Denis Genreau, Thomas Glover, Joel King, Ashley Maynard-Brewer, Riley McGree, Connor Metcalfe, Dylan Pierias, Reno Piscopo, Kye Rowles, Harry Souttar, Ruon Tongyik, Caleb Watts.