From Ned Zelic’s flash of brilliance to the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the legendary Camp Nou, Mark Bosnich recalls how Australia’s road to their best ever Olympics finish at Barcelona 1992 was one to remember.
In a similar fashion to January’s third-place finish at the AFC U-23 Championship, Australia qualified for the 1992 edition of the Games in challenging circumstances.
In their final qualifying match, an inexperienced Australian U-23’s outfit met a star-studded Dutch side over two legs.
After a 1-1 draw in Sydney, they trailed 2-1 in the return leg with less than ten minutes remaining in extra time.
It was then that Ned Zelic produced an ingenious finish at the front post to secure the Green and Gold’s passage to Barcelona on away goals – something Bosnich describes a “seminal moment” for Australian football.
“We had a very tough route and, in the end, qualified in one of the most dramatic ways,” he told the FFA Podcast.
“That day in Utrecht was unbelievable from start to finish.
“We came into the ground and I remember seeing the opposition with Marc Overmars and a few other household names playing for them.
“They had these shirts on before the game basically saying, ‘Barcelona 1992’. I don’t think with hindsight they would have done that again.
“I think it riled up some of our boys, put it that way.”
It was John Filan who started in between the sticks during Australia’s opening 3-1 defeat at the hands of Ghana – a side they would meet again later in the tournament.
“We were a bit flat in the opening game and were defeated quite comprehensively,” Bosnich recalled.
“It was then an uphill battle to qualify and in the next game against Mexico I came in and we drew 1-1 which kept us in the running.”
Bosnich believes their do-or-die final group stage fixture against Denmark was defined by a tactical tweak made by Eddie Thomson.
Listen to the first FFA Podcast with Graham Arnold, former Socceroo Mark Bosnich, Westfield Matildas great Julie Murray, and current Westfield Matilda Chloe Logarzo in the player below!
“I remember we pushed ‘The Wizard’ Ned Zelic into midfield and Paul Okon dropped back,” he said.
“Those two playing together gave us that nexus in the middle of the park to keep possession and we won 3-0.”
Australia were rewarded with a quarter-final clash with Sweden at the Camp Nou, where goals from John Markovski and Shaun Murphy saw them triumph 2-1.
They returned to the storied home of FC Barcelona to face Poland with a guaranteed Olympic medal at stake.
After falling behind inside half an hour, Australia celebrated as Carl Veart headed home an equaliser after 36 minutes.
However, it was all one-way traffic from there.
“In the semi-finals we got an absolute whacking 6-1,” Bosnich said.
“It was one that at the time you felt so low, you would never forget.”
A chance for redemption arose two days later in the bronze medal play-off against familiar foe Ghana. Yet again Filan was preferred to Bosnich against the African nation.
Australia fought hard but suffered a tight 1-0 defeat by the finest of margins, with the decisive moment a Paul Okon spot-kick.
“I grew up with Paul Okon and I’d never seen him miss a penalty until then,” Bosnich said.
Nevertheless, their fourth-place finish remains the best Olympic result in Australia’s footballing history.
Graham Arnold is determined to go at least one step further with his side at Tokyo 2021 and Bosnich believes there are plenty of positive signs to extract from their recent qualification campaign.
“I thought it was a fantastic achievement,” he said.
“It was a tight tournament and I thought they particularly did really well against Uzbekistan.
“They took everything in their stride even in some of the earlier games when some things didn’t go 100% for them.
“We saw some really great fighting spirit and it was a wonderful way to qualify in the end.”