Ryan Teague scored a late goal to lift Australia Under-23 to a 3-2 win over a dogged Selection Mediterranee on Friday, securing their first ever win at the Maurice Revello Tournament on their second attempt.
After being frustrated in a dour 0-0 draw with Qatar, the ignominy of which was only added to by a penalty shootout loss that saw them miss out on a bonus point, Tony Vidmar's side raced to an early lead at the Stade D'Honneur Mallemort.
Garang Kuol was pivotal in both goals: He got behind the defence and delivered a cutback that set Nishan Velupillay up for a simple finish at the back post in the sixth minute, and then laced a driven ranged effort in the 21st that keeper Henrique Tavares, who plays for FC Bourgoin-Jallieu in the French fifth tier, could only parry into the path of Velupillay for the rebound.
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The Selection Mediterranee, put together only a few days before the tournament after Togo's late withdrawal, and comprising players from clubs in the region -- some semi-professional -- or locals back home for the offseason, rallied, and they finished the opening stanza level and as the better team: Ibrahim Mandefu and Theo Trinker both capitalised on woeful set-piece defending with goals in the 27th and 43rd minutes.
Alou Kuol and substitute Marco Tilio had chances for Australia in a janky second stanza -- as did Yacouba Barry and Oucasse Mendy for the locals -- but the game seemed destined to be a draw until an 85th-minute Tilio free-kick was headed down by Jordan Courtney-Perkins for Teague, who fired home to win it.
It's Like Poetry, They Rhyme
Much like the game against Qatar earlier in the week, the Olyroos started with significant purpose and energy, and, this time, they were rewarded for their endeavour with two early goals -- Kuol creating the second goal after pinching the ball off Nice prospect Trinker before running and shooting. Unlike the Qataris, however, Selection Mediterranee were willing to get forward and try to make something of their own; once Australia's early control subsided, it was they who took control and they were good value for their goals heading into halftime.
The Olyroos again lacked consistent high-quality looks on goal in the second half, despite control of possession. They weren't as blunt as against Qatar, and there were signs of improvement -- which perhaps is all one can fairly ask for at this stage of the team's cycle -- but they still were not of the level, particularly in midfield play, that will see them compete with Asia's best in the coming Olympic cycle.
Still, given the late arrival into camp of players such as Garang Kuol, Tilio, and Nectarios Triantis, as well as rotation between the first and second games, the Olyroos are yet to play what many would consider to be their 'strongest' starting XI in France. With Mexico awaiting in the final group game, however, and seeding and progression still up in the air, one would imagine that something more approximate to that will be deployed on Monday. With a strong lineup on the field and two games under more players' belts, Vidmar will be hoping for concrete signs of improvement as he continue preparations for September's AFC U23 Championship qualifiers.
Garangski is Good
It was just six months ago that Garang Kuol was controlling a ball, turning, and almost beating Emiliano Martinez to send the Socceroos to extra-time against Argentina in the FIFA World Cup round of 16; and he demonstrated that pedigree early on Friday.
Creating Australia's first two goals, the Newcastle United prospect, who is searching for a new loan destination after a challenging period at Hearts, was the most threatening Australian player in attack, and he was perhaps unlucky not to get a goal of his own with an 18th-minute attempt. There's an air of menace about him in the way he plays, as if at any moment he could make one darting move, one burst of speed, or one sudden attack on the ball, and leave the opposition reeling.
Vidmar and Socceroos coach Graham Arnold have both flagged the Olyroos and qualifying for the Olympics will remain a high priority throughout this cycle -- meaning we'll also see figures such as Alex Robertson, Jordan Bos and Alessandro Circati in competitive fixtures -- so Kuol will have plenty more opportunities to adjust and get better with this side in future months.
Selection Mediterranee continue to grab their opportunities
Thrown together at very short notice after the withdrawal of Togo, not much would have been expected from Nordine Assami's piecemeal side; they were quite literally there to fill up the numbers, sent out to lose because a replacement nation for Togo couldn't be drummed up at late notice.
And yet after two games, this rag-tag collection of players has pushed traditional youth football powers Mexico in a game that required a 94th-minute winner from El Tri, and now forced Australia to dig deep and find a last-gasp winner of their own. This was supposed to be a team of easy-beats, but they're proving to be anything but.
Given the number of talent scouts who descend upon the south of France to observe this tournament, this collection of players must have prospects either of moving upwards in their own teams or finding new homes -- regardless of their coming game with Qatar. They've earned it.
Best and Worst Performers
Best: Garang Kuol, Australia -- Quite comfortably the Australian most likely to do something in attack.
Best: Ibrahim Mandefu, Selection Mediterranee -- Forced into action after an early injury to Jores Rahou but quickly became a threat; he scored a goal and had several nice touches in setting himself and others up.
Best: Theo Trinker, Selection Mediterranee -- Scored his side's second goal with a piledriver effort, and showed plenty of flashes in the midfield.
Best: Marco Tilio, Australia -- Looked an immediate threat when he went on in the 66th minute, and went very close to scoring in the 77th when he got in behind and forced Tavares into a save.
Worst: Australia's Set Piece Defending -- Both of Selection Mediterranee's goals came from corners that the Olyroos were unable to clear; the first bounced through a sea of players to Mandefu, and the second eventually went to Trinker despite several opportunities for someone wearing green and gold to clear.
Worst: Alou Kuol, Australia -- Reflective of the dearth of football he's had at club level in recent months, Kuol wasn't at his sharp best and cut a frustrated figure towards the end. Will improve with more games.
Highlights and Notable Moments
The Olyroos took the lead in the sixth minute of play when Garang Kuol cut the ball back for Velupillay to drive home.
🇦🇺 🔥BUUUT !! l'Australie surprend la sélection de la Méditerranée par l'intermédiaire de Nisham Velupillay bien servi par Garang Kuol— Tournoi Maurice Revello #TMR2023 (@TournoiMRevello) June 9, 2023
Voir le match en direct sur https://t.co/z3BK3mlTgP
➡️https://t.co/KPf7uWnN7v#AUSMED #TMR2023 pic.twitter.com/qxBu90gRgW
Just five minutes after Velupillay grabbed a brace, Mandefu pulled one back for Selection Mediterranee.
🔵💥Les Méditerranéens réduisent l'écart sur corner grâce à Ibrahim Mandefu (@CFR_1907_Cluj) qui traînait au deuxième poteau ! Le match est relancé !— Tournoi Maurice Revello #TMR2023 (@TournoiMRevello) June 9, 2023
Voir le match en direct sur https://t.co/wvxeqCgpUi
➡️https://t.co/KPf7uWnN7v#AUSMED #TMR2023 pic.twitter.com/1bhSYInUsk
After the match: What the managers, players said
Tony Vidmar (Australia coach) to tournoimauricerevello.com: "We started well. I think we controlled the game for the first 20 minutes when we scored the two goals. But then the Mediterranean team started to have more chances with the ball, and they managed to be sharper than us. They made it difficult for us with their individualities."
Nordine Assami (Selection Mediterranee coach) to tournoimauricerevello.com: "Given our content, we can once again be disappointed. We got into the first quarter of an hour badly. We really faced a very good Australian team who put a lot of intensity. I think we are a selection that is not used to playing every three days, it draws on the organizations."
Nishan Velupillay (Australia) to tournoimauricerevello.com: "We started well apart from those two set pieces. We need to improve at this level, but I think the start was good. We just had to stay focused. We just said to ourselves that we had to go into the second half with the same approach, the same determination, start with energy and make sure we didn't make those mistakes from set pieces."
In Australia's second game at the Maurice Revello Tournament, Melbourne Victory's Velupillay became their first goalscorer on this stage. Then their second.
Not a single member of the Selection Mediterranee XI logged a minute in a top-flight senior league this season, with a scant handful even making an appearance on the team sheet as an unused sub at Ligue 111 level.
The fixture marked the first time that Garang and Alou Kuol have started a game together at the international level. From the Goulburn Valley Suns to the world.
Australia: The Olyroos will face what, on paper, is the toughest of their group games when they play Mexico on Monday. Mexico won the 2012 Olympic Games gold medal, and took bronze at the Tokyo Games.
Selection Mediterranee XI: The disparate collection of locals will face Qatar, looking to further impress in their unexpected audition against some of the world's best underage talent.