Young guns Tass Mourdoukoutas and Keanu Baccus believe their “amazing experience” helping the Australian under 23s qualify for the Tokyo Olympics later this year can play a part in the Wanderers bid to turn around their Hyundai A-League season.
Young guns Tass Mourdoukoutas and Keanu Baccus believe their “amazing experience” helping the Australian Under 23s qualify for the Tokyo Olympics later this year can play a part in the Wanderers bid to turn around their Hyundai A-League season.
Mourdoukoutas and Baccus played pivotal roles as the Olyroos qualified for the Olympics for the first time in 12 years with a 1-0 win over Uzbekistan in the AFC Under 23s championship in Thailand last week.
Despite the grueling schedule and tough conditions, the duo figured in most of the games in the tournament with coach Graham Arnold showing great faith in their ability to contribute to the success of the team.
Baccus praised the camaraderie in the squad, revealing they were a close-knit unit that was devoid of egos and negativity.
“Everyone was there determined to achieve good things. It was a great group of boys that was aiming for the same target,” said Baccus.
“Hopefully, we can bring that sort of similar culture back and show what the Wanderers are really made of.”
Mourdoukoutas echoed those sentiments.
“For sure there we no big egos and it is a big reason why teams are successful in general, but especially this team,” the defender said.
“If there were boys not willing to give 100 percent on any given day then we may have lost a game and not gone through.
“It was a long tournament and not easy to keep your mind focussed every day so you needed the support and the group around you.”
The Olyroos qualified from their group for the knock out stage, going on to beat Syria in a quarter-final before losing 2-0 to a red hot South Korea in a semi-final.
However, the Australians still had another chance to qualify for Tokyo. It meant they had to beat Uzbekistan in the playoff for third and fourth spot.
Nick D’Agostino’s second half goal was enough to do the job. As the full-time whistle blew, it was something Mourdoukoutas and Baccus will never forget.
“The emotion just took over and once we made the quarter-finals we knew it was well and truly on,” said Mourdoukoutas.
“We had a good test against Syria and got past them.
“Then we knew we had two shots. We knew Korea was a strong side and massive credit to them. They played well and deservedly won the tournament.
“But, at the end of the day, we gave ourselves the best chance with the two games. We just had to beat Uzbekistan and when that final whistle blew it was unbelievable. Emotion took over.
“Just to know everyone back home, family, friends, relatives, the Wanderers, the fans were all proud of us was just something very special.”
Baccus described the feeling as “one of the best of my career”.
Baccus and Mourdoukoutas had slow starts to the tournament but both agreed they grew into it.
“For me, it was tough at the start,” admitted Baccus.
“It was really muggy and humid. The sun is not as harsh as it is here, but I was struggling to get going.
“But, for sure I grew into the tournament. I got rested for the second game but then I kicked on and got going.”