“Nobody expected us to qualify, then we qualified, then nobody expected us to come out of the group stages …”
Almost 30 years later, John Markovski still relishes the underdog label that the Olyroos repeatedly defied to shock the world at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Australia’s first appearance in football at the Olympics was in itself a huge surprise after the green and gold hinted at something special to beat the Netherlands in the play-off.
After a 1-1 draw at home, the Olyroos led the Dutch 2-1 in overtime before Ned Zelic produced a brilliant individual to ensure Australia reached Barca on away goals.
Drawn into an intimidating Group D, Eddie Thomson’s side then started their Olympic campaign precariously as they fell 3-1 to Ghana in a disappointing performance.
The Olyroos started to find their feet in their next game against Mexico with Mark Bosnich starting between the sticks in an encouraging 1-1 draw that kept Australia’s hopes up.
Needing nothing less than a victory over Denmark, a nation which celebrated a fairytale triumph at Euro a month earlier and which had already won three silver medals in football, Thomson s ‘turned to Markovski to give the Olyroos an advantage.
“It was my first game, I didn’t play the first two, and I scored,” said Markovski Sports news.
“It was such a great experience and scoring an important goal when I had my chance was very satisfying.”
The striker’s opening match in the 32nd minute put Australia on track as they clinched a shock 3-0 victory over a Danish side who had conceded only once in the tournament.
Thomson’s decision to push Zelic into midfield and leave Paul Okon a bit further away for the clash was also seen as a defining tactical adjustment that made room for the Olyroos in the knockout stage.
Another impressive Scandinavian side in the form of Sweden awaited the green and gold in the quarter-finals with the Swedes leading their group and benefiting from an emerging Serie A star in the form of Tomas Brolin.
In front of around 30,000 fans at Camp Nou, the Australian once again showed he couldn’t be underestimated with Markovski opening the scoring before Shaun Murphy made it 2-0 after 53 minutes.
Sweden fought back on the hour mark thanks to future Barcelona player Patrik Andersson, but the Olyroos held on to produce another shock.
A rampaging Poland, who beat Italy 3-0 in the group stage, would prove too difficult a task in the semi-final, however, as Australia conceded four second-half goals in a 6-1 defeat sobering.
Broken down but not eliminated, the green and gold were then inches away from winning a bronze medal in the third-place playoffs against Ghana only for a rare missed penalty from Okon to give the African nation a 1-0 victory.
While the 1992 Games did not end on a podium, it remains Olyroos’ best performance to date and created memories that will never be forgotten by those involved.
“To have Camp Nou as your home base, you couldn’t ask for anything better than this,” Markovski said.
“Having the best athletes in the world in the village was also a great experience. You have tennis players, the Dream Team – but they didn’t stay in the village because they would have been assaulted!
“Qualifying was a great success … we thought maybe we could go all the way. We always think about it.
“Looking back we did more than a lot of people expected of us and finishing fourth was a great achievement for our country in football.”
Olyroos’ current coach Graham Arnold has repeatedly called on his team to shock the world in Tokyo next month with proof from Markovski’s team in 1992 that it can be done.