Australia shock Mexico to seal Maurice Revello Tournament semifinal berth

Australia will play in the semifinals of the Maurice Revello Tournament after goals from Noah Botic and Marlee Francois propelled them to an upset 2-0 win over Mexico 2-0, forcing El Tri into a nervy wait to see if they will progress as the best second-placed side of the three groups.

Played in behind the defence by Jacob Farrell, Botic had the Olyroos ahead in the 50th minute when he struck a left-footed effort across his body that careened into Hector Holguin and continued bouncing into the net — the Santos Laguna keeper only able to look back in dismay as it crossed the goal line.

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Australia should have already been leading at that point through defender Nectarios Triantis, who had ghosted into space at the Mexican back post in the 15th minute to meet a Marco Tilio free kick but sent his header wide.

Taking advantage of the miss, as well as some haphazard Australian play that saw them regularly turn the ball over deep in their own half, Mexico finished the first half the stronger of the two sides and Real Oviedo attacker Marcelo Flores — on loan from Premier League side Arsenal — also had an opportunity to equalise fall to him with just over 10 minutes to go in the game when he dug a shot out from beneath his feet only send it wide.

After some fine work from Ryan Teague in the build-up, second-half substitute Garang Kuol burst down the right flank in the 87th minute and whipped in a cross that beat his brother Alou but found the feet of Francois, who fired home to seal the result.

Rapid Reaction

Disappointing Mexico forced to sweat

Mexico midfielder Benjamin Galdames cut a furious figure when the full-time whistle sounded at the Stade de Lattre-de-Tassigny, his side having fallen to a defeat to an opponent that, based on resumes at the under-23 level, they would have been expected to comfortably beat heading into this week.

Indeed, in what is their 27th appearance at the Maurice Revello Tournament, Mexico would have headed to the south of France expecting to top Group B having been drawn alongside unheralded Australia, a Selection Mediterranee side that was thrown together at the last minute to replace Togo, and Qatar.

However, much like in 2022, when they were forced to qualify for the semifinals as the best second-place finisher after finishing behind Venezuela, El Tri will again find their progression in this year’s tournament at the mercy of others heading into the final day of group play.

Olyroos fly the flag

The win, conversely, means that Australia has exceeded expectations in what is their first appearance at the Maurice Revello Tournament, both coming after the flat, blunt performance against Qatar in their opening game in which they drew a blank against a side that would lose 4-0 to Mexico in their next hit-out. There were improvements on show in their following game against Selection Mediterranee, albeit it took a very late winner from Teague to ensure their tournament remained alive, but things clicked into place against Mexico.

Determined in their approach and clear in focus, Australia weren’t free-flowing in a dominant display of attacking verve — Mexico outshot Tony Vidmar’s side 10 to five — but they were dogged throughout the 90, dominated play between the boxes for large stretches, and denied their opponents any kind of clear-cut chances.

Once Botic opened the scoring, it was the Australians who displayed a clearer clarity in purpose and intent and, by game’s end, no fair-minded observers would have declared the final result some kind of injustice.

A series of initiatives and circumstances have conspired to give Australia reasons to be excited about its current crop of talent coming through — an Australia under-18 side has acquitted themselves well against Portugal and England at an FPF Sub-18 Tournament taking place at the same time as Maurice Revello Tournament — and Monday’s result provides another reason for cheer.

Who starts next?

Perhaps the biggest question facing down Vidmar and his staff over the coming days is just who starts in the coming semifinal?

Sunderland-bound Triantis, Tilio, and Farrell all made their first starts of the tournament in Monday’s win, while Cameron Peupion came back into the side at the expense of Garang Kuol and, after being amongst the Olyroos best against Qatar, was again a notable performer.

Garang Kuol, however, proved his worth by providing the assist for the sealer, his third of the tournament, and provided a genuine spark when he came off the bench, albeit that should be expected by now. Alou Kuol, likewise, provided inspiration off the pine and although he won’t start — Botic should have earned that right — the elder Kuol pressed another case to come off the bench in the semifinals. Keegan Jelacic, who replaced Tilio on the hour, impressed, as did fellow substitute Louis D’Arrigo, who replaced Calem Nieuwenhof at the half.

Of course, that this conversation is even happening at all harkens back to the depth that Australia has developed in its junior ranks, and why there is excitement about the current crop.

Best and worst performers

Best: Ryan Teague, Australia — Has started every game of the tournament for Vidmar and was a key midfield cog in the Olyroos performance, and it was his fighting work that set the stage for Francois’ sealer.

Best: Jacob Farrell, Australia — Fresh off becoming an A-League Men champion with the Central Coast Mariners, Farrell played a key role at the back for the Olyroos and set Botic up for his goal.

Worst: Angel Robles, Mexico — Was largely anonymous in the opening half before being subbed off at half-time.

Highlights and Notable Moments

The upset was well and truly on when Botic got in behind the Mexican’s lines and blasted an effort towards goal that Holguin couldn’t contain.

Garang Kuol’s cutback to Francois then sealed the game for the Australians.

Key stats

– With another assist, Garang Kuol moves into the equal lead for the tournament with three, alongside Mexico’s Galdames and France‘s Warren Zaire-Emery.

– Not only did Alou and Garang Kuol take the field for Australia again, but they did so under the guidance of Tony and Aurelio Vidmar in the dugout, with the latter serving as an assistant to his brother in France.

Up next

Australia: In their first Maurice Revello Tournament, the Olyroos join group A winners France in securing passage to the semifinals, which will be staged as a double-header at the Salon-de-Provence on Saturday evening.

Mexico: El Tri will now have to sweat on the final day of Group C play to discover if, for the second straight year, they will progress to the semifinals as the best second-place finisher of the three groups. Sitting on six points, one better than second-placed Saudi Arabia in Group A, Mexico remain odds on to progress: Japan and Morocco, the only two sides in Group C that can match their six points second-place finish need to engineer a significant goal difference turnaround to do so.

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