Having been drawn in the same group as Argentina, the title holders and one of the favourites to go all the way here in China, the Côte d'Ivoire, Australia and Serbia delegations at April's draw for the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008 could be forgiven for feeling hard done by. And four months on, events in Group A have panned out much as expected, with the Albiceleste boasting maximum points from two games and a place in the quarter-finals already assured.
"We knew Argentina were the overwhelming favourites to qualify from the group and that's what happened," says Gerard Gili, the Ivorians' French-born coach. "But we don't see ourselves as inferior to anybody: we've played good football, we've got three points and we have our fate in our own hands. That's what matters," adds Gili, whose side enjoy a two-point cushion over both Serbia and Australia going into this Wednesday 13 August's final round of matches.
A win for the Ivorians against the Olyroos would guarantee their place in the last eight, regardless of the result of Argentina-Serbia, but Graham Arnold's Aussies remain firmly in the hunt themselves. "When we arrived here, if we'd been offered the chance to be in contention going into the last round of matches we'd have snapped it up," says coach Arnold. "And after our performance against Argentina, one of the best teams in the world, how could we not hope to spring a surprise and seal qualification?"
Serbia, the third team in the running for that coveted second-place spot, have an even tougher task ahead of them. Runners-up at the last edition of the UEFA Under-21 Championship, the Europeans must take all three points against Argentina and hope Côte d'Ivoire fail to beat Australia. In the event of a draw in that game, or an Olyroo win, second place would then be decided on goal difference.
And despite the odds being stacked against them, Serbia coach Miroslav Dujkic remains upbeat: "There's still a mathematical possibility of us going through, and even if our fate is no longer in our hands, we'll be giving everything we've got."
What dreams are made of
Perhaps understandably given the circumstances, confidence levels are highest in the African camp. "We're getting better with every game," Elephants' forward Salomon Kalou told FIFA.com. "If we keep going like this not only can we reach the next phase, but we could go all the way to the final."
The Chelsea man would be wise not to get too far ahead of himself, however, as opponents Australia would like nothing more than to snatch a quarter-final berth from under their noses. "The performance and concentration we showed against Argentina will spur us on for our final game," underlined Aussie skipper Mark Milligan. "It would mean a great deal to football in our country if we got through to the next phase, and that's what we'll be focusing on when we take the field."
And though his side go into the final reckoning at a clear disadvantage, Serbia's Aleksandar Zivkovic also refuses to throw in the towel. "Our work here is not over," says the Shandong Luneng midfielder. "Argentina are favourites to win our match but we'll give it everything. What's our morale like? We'll have a better idea in a couple of days' time."