Arnie’s secret weapon to end Olympic exile
THE Olyroos will have to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics without superstar Daniel Arzani as they look to play in their first Games since Beijing in 2008.
It was hoped the 20-year-old, who took the world by storm with his World Cup performances last year, would be available for the Olyroos' AFC U23 Championships in Thailand.
But Arzani feels he's not ready for tournament football after a long time on the sidelines with a knee injury.
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He suffered an ACL injury in October 2018 in his debut for Scottish champions Celtic which ruled him out of the Asian Cup, and 14 months later, Australia is still waiting for his return.
Arzani has been reintroduced to first team training at Celtic Park and could potentially make an appearance in the new year.
"Daniel hasn't kicked a ball since October, his rehab has come a long quite slowly," coach Graham Arnold said ahead of the Olyroos' tournament kick-off against Iraq on January 8.
"He feels that his body isn't ready for this tournament. To back up every three or four days to play a game in a tournament situation like that, he's not ready."
Australia need to get past Iraq, Thailand and Bahrain in the group stages before a quarter-final matchup. They will then need to win their semi-final to ensure qualification to Tokyo.
Should they lose their semi-final, they could still qualify by winning the third-place match.
Pundits, fans and analysts point to Australia's downfall at youth tournaments, and failure to qualify for the Olympic Games as a symptom of the down curve of youth production.
But Arnold has a trick up his sleeve to turn the tide; the Olyroos 'pseudo-Arzani' - Trent Buhagiar.
The Sydney FC striker also ruptured his ACL in October last year, but has made a swift return to A-League football, scoring in Sydney FC's 5-1 win over Brisbane Roar.
Buhagiar possesses cheetah-like speed and has a quality eye for goal for a young player. He was Sydney FC's first signing in the post-Arnold era, but his selection for the Olyroos suggests Arnold had his eye on the youngster for some time.
His inclusion shows just how much faith Arnold has in him despite his injury recovery.
"Trent Buhagiar has always been someone that has caught my eye, that speed you can't stop," said Arnold.
"He's fit as a fiddle. He's come back faster than what he was before the ACL injury and he is in great shape."
Buhagiar revels in the support he has from Arnold, and knows that it's a chance for him to build his confidence in the Socceroos frame as he prepares to strut his stuff.
"Having that support helps me after having a year off with my injury, it helps me build my confidence," Buhagiar told The Daily Telegraph.
"It's a privilege to represent my country. It's a huge tournament and I'm sure we'll qualify for the Olympics."
"[Arnie] is the national team coach, so it's a chance to impress for the Socceroos."