St James’s Park, Newcastle is a magnificent venue to watch football. Photo: Roy Hay.
Olympic football tournament taking shape
After two rounds of group matches in both the men’s and women’s tournament, the form of the teams is becoming evident and the likely shape of the quarter-finals is beginning to appear. Among the men, Japan has emerged as a real threat to the Europeans and South Americans. There was a little bit of luck about the manner of their victory over Morocco, but it was deserved as they had much the better of the late stages of the game. Japan will top Group D with a draw against Honduras at Coventry on Wednesday night. Morocco will have to defeat Spain and hope Japan thumps Honduras if Pim Verbeek’s team is to get to the knock-out stages.
The other Asian Football Confederation representative from the east in the men’s competition, South Korea is level on points with Mexico on four in Group B. The Koreans should easily account for Gabon and progress comfortably along with Mexico who will probably be too strong for Switzerland. If these results go as suggested, that will be a real feather in the AFC cap and is something which should be carefully studied by Australia. If we want to be competitive in future then we are going to have to lift our sights and invest even more in youth to match these extremely well organised and highly-talented teams from East Asia.
Team GB has a win and draw in Group A, level with the physically strong Senegal, while Uruguay has been a disappointment so far. It is likely that Senegal will overcome the United Arab Emirates and so top the group, while Team GB must at least draw with Uruguay to get through.
In the final male group Brazil is clear with two wins and Belarus is likely to join them unless the New Zealanders can pull off a massive upset with a win over the Selecao. Even that would not be enough unless Belarus and Egypt play a low scoring draw. I am assuming that goal difference rather than head to head records come into play in event of equality in this tournament but that is something I need to check.
Among the women, Team GB is through to the quarter finals along with Brazil no matter what the outcome of their final encounter in Group E turns out to be. New Zealand is out despite two very narrow losses, each by a goal. Group F is close with Sweden and Japan on four points and Canada on three. Japan will probably score heavily against South Africa to win this group, but Canada versus Sweden could be very close and a draw is enough for Sweden.
In the final group, the USA has qualified with six points and a massive goal difference advantage over its final group opponent DPR Korea. The Koreans ran out of legs against France and will be giving away height and weight to the Americans and this could be an ugly end to the tournament for them. France will almost certainly deal comfortably with Colombia, whose individual flair has not been enough to disturb their organised opponents so far.
Once the knock-out stages begin of course it becomes more difficult to predict winners but if I were betting I would be having something on Japan to reach the final of the men’s tournament, though most people will still favour Brazil to win the gold medal. The United States women have been most impressive and it looks like they will pick up their third Olympic victory in succession, though the Brazilians might have something to say about that. Marta is in excellent form and might conjure another victory for Brazil over its North American rival.