Hyundai A-League starlet Nicholas D'Agostino of Brisbane Roar was the star of the show as Australia’s U-23 national team drew 2-2 with Korea Republic on Tuesday night, moving the team a step closer to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
D'Agostino won man of the match honours after firing a first-the half double to send Australia to the 2020 AFC U-23 Championship in Thailand next January, which serves as the final phase of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics in 18 months' time.
Australia last qualified for the men’s football event at the Olympic Games in Beijing 2008, but are on course to break that drought thanks to the Brisbane forward’s pair of finishes.
Leading the line for Graham Arnold’s side in their final Group H encounter in Phnom Penh, D'Agostino struck Australia into an early lead when Lachlan Wales stepped past a Korea Republic defender on the right flank and fizzed in an excellent cross which was missed by a defender before being pounced on by the Roar man.
And former Genk trialist D'Agostino made it a double 10 minutes later, blasting a superb left-foot finish past the Korea Republic goalkeeper at the near post following Alex Gersbach’s release.
Melbourne City flyer Nathaniel Atkinson might have joined his fellow fullback and former Sydney FC youth Gersbach in registering a first-half assist after crafting a lovely cutback for Reno Piscopo, only for the Korea Republic keeper to spectacularly palm away the attacker’s close-range strike.
Atkinson’s City teammate Riley McGree also should have found the net in the opening half only to spurn a glorious headed opportunity.
Stationed behind front man D’Agostino, McGree was supported astutely by a central midfield pairing of Western Sydney Wanderers talent Keanu Baccus and Central Coast Mariners man Aiden O’Neill, with the former being replaced by Perth Glory dynamo Brandon Wilson in the second half.
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Further back, Melbourne Victory defender Thomas Deng led by example next to Stoke City’s Harry Souttar, helping Australia settle as Korea Republic hit back shortly after D’Agostino’s second and again in the 63rd minute.
“We wouldn’t have played this well if we didn’t have the camp in Malaysia before we came,” D'Agostino said following the match.
“All the boys needed to come over that week earlier and acclimatise to the heat and humidity, and Malaysia allowed us to do that.
“We put on some great performances [in Cambodia].”