Australia open Tokyo '20 bid with draw vs. Iraq at AFC U-23 tourney
The Olyroos have drawn 1-1 with Iraq in their opening Group A match at the AFC U-23 Championship, Asia's qualifying tournament for the Tokyo Olympics.
Reno Piscopo scored a stunning free kick to give Australia the lead just after the hour mark on Wednesday at Thammasat Stadium in Thailand.
However, Mohammad Qasem found the net with a fine finish of his own to earn Iraq a share of the points.
A moment's silence was held before the kick off in memory of the lives lost and those affected by the bushfires in Australia. After a scoreless first half, Wellington winger Piscopo found the top corner with a powerful strike from 30 yards, after he was fouled by Mohammed Ridha Jalil.
"This goal, I dedicate it to the families back home in Australia, the victims [of the bushfires], so it was special for me," Piscopo said.
Iraq substitute Qasem rode a tackle before curling a superb strike past the diving Thomas Glover, finding the bottom corner via the inside of the post in the 77th minute.
Graham Arnold's Olyroos almost grabbed a late winner but defender Dylan Ryan's glancing header came back off the post. Defender Alex Gersbach said the the Aussies should have won the game.
"It's really disappointing, to be honest, not to come away with the three points," he said. "We had every intention to win this game but it's useless thinking about it now.
"From tomorrow morning we have to think about the next game, Thailand on Saturday night."
Next up for the Olyroos is a clash with Thailand, who thumped Bahrain 5-0 in the group's other match, on Saturday (Sunday 12.15am AEDT) at Rajamangala Stadium.
Piscopo said the Olyroos were confident of winning the tournament despite the early setback.
"It's still early stages. It's just the first game. Anything can happen, and we believe we can go all the way," he said.
The top two teams from the four groups will advance to the quarterfinals. Olympic qualification for the first time since 2008 is on the agenda for the Olyroos.
The AFC U-23 Championship's top three teams -- the two finalists and the third-place play-off winner -- will join Games hosts Japan at Tokyo 2020.