Olyroos suffer last-gasp defeat by Panama in Maurice Revello Tournament semifinals

Cameron Peupion challenges Panama's Jose Matos for the ball. The Australian was named Player of the Match. Twitter/TournoiMRevello

Two defensive lapses cost 10-man Australia a spot in the final of the Maurice Revello Tournament, Tony Vidmar's side falling to a 2-1 defeat against Panama in the semifinals on Friday evening.

With the game locked at 1-1 in the 88th minute, a long ball over the top of the Olyroos defence for Reyniel Perdomo, who was just onside, was badly misjudged by Nicholas Bilokapic, allowing the Panama skipper to round the onrushing keeper and fire in at an angle to send his side through to the final.

Bilokapic's error capped a disappointing match for the 20-year-old custodian, who had already played a large role in gifting the Central Americans an equaliser when he knocked a casual pass to a tightly marked Louis D'Arrigo in the 38th minute. The ball was promptly poked away from the Australian midfielder by Luis Fields, and Davis Contreras pounced and sent in a shot, that although not well hit, rolled over the line to restore the game to parity.

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Noah Botic had previously given Australia the lead when he met a cross from Cameron Peupion at the near post and bundled the ball beyond keeper Miguel Perez in the 18th minute.

Callum Talbot and Nishan Velupillay both went close to restoring Australia's lead just after the second-half resumption, but proceedings took a turn in the 63rd minute, when Jacob Farrell was given a second yellow card for a late, reckless challenge on Perdomon -- the same opponent he had fouled to earn his first caution in the opening 45 -- shifting the dynamics of the game and forcing his teammates onto the back foot.

Rapid Reaction

Vidmar Rolls the Dice

The first eyebrows to be raised over proceedings at Stade Marcel Roustan arrived even before kickoff, with Vidmar's starting XI featuring several choices that, based on form, could best be described as bold.

Despite making key contributions to the win over Mexico that booked the Olyroos a spot in the final four, Marco Tilio, Garang Kuol and Nectarios Triantis were all named on the bench for the semifinal, with Velupillay, Keegan Jelacic and Jordan Courtney-Perkins preferred. Calem Nieuwenhof and Jacob Italiano were also among the subs, albeit the form of their replacements, D'Arrigo and Talbot, made those moves more understandable.

With no concrete information on the squad's fitness available before the game, the possibility that at least some of these changes were injury- or-fatigue enforced can't be discounted; in fact, it should probably be assumed. But the changes struggled to fire, and the result will inevitably colour analysis of the coach's gambit -- even if Panama didn't do much to justify winning.

Indeed, short of information on availability emerging to inform otherwise, it can't be said to have been a good gamble given the Olyroos lacked that touch of much-needed class in the final third, or the drive to play through their opponent -- a general theme for all Australian national teams.

Self-Inflicted Wounds Prove Costly

While it is tempting to lay all blame for the loss at the feet of Vidmar's selections -- the social media response from Australian viewers certainly didn't waste much time in doing so -- it's also worth noting that none of the key self-inflicted wounds that birthed the defeat came from the players whose inclusion was a surprise, nor were they the type of error that an international-calibre under-23 player should be making.

Bilokapic's crestfallen state as he tried to absorb Perdomo's winner was clear when the camera turned to him afterwards; the youngster simply made two mistakes that were punished by his opponents in the cruellest way possible. Those are the margins at international level, and he'll need to wear that.

The Camperdown native has started every game for the Olyroos in France, and even with this bad day at the office he remains an exciting prospect heading into the Olympics cycle and beyond. And without trying to absolve all responsibility, a deep turnover such as that which led to the equaliser inevitably had a lot to do with the options teammates presented in front of the goalkeeper, and there were questions about offside on both Panamanian goals.

Farrell, meanwhile, was among the Olyroos' best in their win over Mexico, but his two rash challenges represented needless errors. Australia's reduction to ten players arguably swung the momentum behind the Panamanians, who to that point had been largely second-best and were being asked increasing questions by those in green and gold.

Baseline Set for the Future

If you'd offered the Olyroos a place in the third-place game at the start of the tournament, they'd probably have taken it. Given the way they've grown into this tournament, though, as well as their control of the semifinal before they shot themselves in the foot, it now feels like a disappointment, and, inevitably, that's now going to be the prevailing takeaway. And that's fair, as the Olyroos were more than good enough to have progressed to the final.

Nonetheless, with a third-place game to play, the Olyroos will return home from France with five games as a unit under their belts, and, hopefully, Vidmar will have a better idea of what must be done to ensure success when the side faces Tajikistan, Laos and North Korea in AFC Under-23 Asian Cup qualification in September.

Players such as Alex Robertson, Alessandro Circati and burgeoning superstar Jordan Bos are all expected to come into this side for future windows; if not the coming qualifiers then definitely the AFC Under-23 Championship proper and the Olympic Games (assuming qualification for both). Further, there's been enough to suggest there are several talents -- Peupion, Botic and Ryan Teague, notably -- who increasingly shape as future Socceroos.

Pitchforks will start to come out if disaster strikes in three months' time, but for now they should be stored. Vidmar, likewise, now has established trends and a baseline in the squad by which to gauge development. Given this tournament was always about preparation and development (the latter point the ultimate goal of any junior international side), the disappointment manner of elimination shouldn't turn into anger just yet.

Best and Worst Performers

Best: Cameron Peupion, Australia -- The Brighton & Hove Albion attacker can mount a strong case to be the Olyroos' player of the tournament, and he was again impressive on Friday.

Best: Noah Botic, Australia -- Grabbed another goal, was unlucky not to add a few more, and is well poised to become an A-League Men's breakout performer in 2023-24.

Best: Reyniel Perdomo, Panama -- Kept working hard for his side, and ultimately was rewarded with the winner.

Worst: Nicholas Bilokapic, Australia -- Can't sugarcoat it; the keeper made mistakes that ultimately proved fatal to his side's hopes. He should learn from this, though, and bounce back.

Worst: Jacob Farrell, Australia -- The challenge that earned the Central Coast Mariners defender a second yellow card and his marching orders simply didn't need to be made, and put his teammates in a hole.

Highlights and Notable Moments

Talbot and Peupion combined to spring the latter into space to cross, and Botic made no mistake at the near post.

A series of unfortunate events between Bilokapic and D'Arrigo, however, allowed Contreras to equalise.

With penalties looming, Perdomo got in behind Australia's defence and took advantage of Bilokapic's error in reading the flight of the ball to grab victory.

Key Stats

  • Panama will play in the final of the Maurice Revello Tournament for the first time in what is their second appearance at the event.

  • Australia had 56% of possession but had only five shots compared with Panama's 10. Australia did, however, have three shots on target compared with their opponent's two.

Up Next

Australia: The Olyroos face France Under-21 in the third-place playoff late on Sunday evening, after Les Bleus lost to Mexico in a penalty shootout.

Panama: Los Canaleros face Mexico in the final, after the third-place game. El Tri defeated France in a shootout after penalty misses from Jeremy Jacquet and Andrea Dacourt.