The U.S. may not have a team in the tourney, and the Games may not officially begin until today, but the Men’s Olympic soccer tournament began yesterday, and things have already gotten good.
First, a little background: Olympic squads may contain professional players, but there is an age restriction. No team may have more than three players over the age of 23. As such, the squads on display are somewhat less high-powered than the ones we see in the World Cup, or just a few weeks ago at the European Championships. Another quirk: to ensure the tournament does not rival the World Cup, FIFA allows teams from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and CONCACAF to field their strongest sides, while UEFA and CONMEBOL teams may only field players that have yet to play in a World Cup. This makes for a much more level playing-field, and the Olympic tournament is really one where anything can happen.
Still, coming in the favorites looked to be Brazil and Spain, with Mexico looking good, as well. One more interesting note: while the UK has four teams in FIFA (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales), for the Olympics this year, a unified Team Great Britain is playing together. The rest of the squads and more information about the tournament can be found on FIFA’s website or Wikipedia.
On to the games, and the first matchday did not disappoint. From eight games, only one produced no goals (Mexico v. Korean Republic), and the average number of goals per game was 2.25!
- Honduras opened the tournament versus Morocco, in an open, entertaining match that ended 2-all: Honduras 2:2 Morocco.
- Craig Bellamy scored in the 19th minute to put Great Britain up over Senegal, only to see Moussa Konate equalize in the 82nd: Great Britain 1:1 Senegal.
- The UAE took the lead against Uruguay, but their wasteful finishing allowed the South Americans to come back and win it: UAE 1:2 Uruguay.
- Brazil went up 3-nil by halftime against Egypt, but the Africans fought back to within touching distance, scoring two second-half goals: Brazil 3:2 Egypt.
In the end, though, the big news of the day was Spain’s 1-0 loss to Japan.. Japan came into the match as heavy underdogs but didn’t look it, matching Spain’s tiki-taka pass for pass, something few thought possible before play began. The goal was scored in the 34th minute, from an in-swinging corner kick, and Spain nearly gifted another to the Japanese a few minutes later. The match was effectively killed before halftime when the Spanish had a man sent off for denying a goal-scoring opportunity. Spain aren’t out of it, of course, but it’s quite the wake-up call.
The other results were:
Play continues with Matchday 2 on Sunday, where Spain versus Honduras will surely take center stage. Below is the schedule for watching the games live online or on TV.
6:50am – Egypt vs New Zealand – Live Extra
9:20am – Mexico vs Gabon – Live Extra
10:00am – Brazil vs Belarus – Live Extra
11:30am – Senegal vs Uruguay – MSNBC, Live Extra (11:50am)
11:50am – Japan vs Morocco – Live Extra
12:15pm – South Korea vs Switzerland – Live Extra
2:45pm – Great Britain vs United Arab Emirates – NBCSN, Live Extra
2:45pm – Spain vs Honduras – Live Extra