Mourdoukoutas and Baccus help Olyroos to next stage

Wanderers young stars Tass Mourdoukoutas and Keanu Baccus played the full 90 minutes and helped Australia qualify for the quarter-finals of the Olympic Games qualifiers.

The Olyroos 1-1 draw with Bahrain in the final match of the group stage this morning (Australian time) was enough for them to finish top of their section and advance to the next stage of the AFC U-23 championships in Thailand.

It was the first time Mourdoukoutas and Baccus had played together at the tournament. Baccus played and Mourdoukoutas was an unused substitute in the opening game against Iraq (1-1) while the situation was reversed in the 2-1 win over Thailand.

Melbourne City FC attacker Ramy Najjarine opened the scoring in the 34th minute of the match, finishing with a neat left-foot strike after he was played in on goal by Reno Piscopo.

Bahrain leveled via a free-kick from Mohamed Jasim Marhoon in what was the last action of the first half

Australia were dominant in the second half but failed to capitalize on numerous second-half opportunities as the game ended in a stalemate.

Still, the draw, combined with Thailand’s draw with Iraq, means that the Green and Gold secured top spot and finished the group stage unbeaten.

Australia will now take on the second-placed side from Group B in a last-eight showdown at Bangkok’s Rajamangala Stadium on Saturday night. Australia’s opponents will be Saudi Arabia, Syria, or Qatar. 

Olyroos head coach Graham Arnold said he was proud of his players for achieving the team’s first target of the tournament. 

“The most important thing was that we got through to the next phase,” Arnold said. “It was the first time since 2014 that the Olympic team has got through this first phase, and that was our first goal.

“Now we really have to step up with improvement in our performance.

“It is a learning experience for these young kids to play in these tournaments.” 

Arnold’s charges will have the benefit of an extra 24 hours rest and recovery to prepare for Saturday’s encounter. 

“We have three days and the other group have got two days (to prepare for the quarter final),” Arnold added. “It is a matter of getting the players fresh mentally and physically.

“I think the boys have done exceptionally well in this climate to play three games in six days – not many would have done that in a long time – so we will get them fresh and ready.”