Wednesday the 13th turned out to be a black day for Asian football, as all four of the continent’s hopefuls were eliminated from the Men's Olympic Football Tournament.
Japan, already out of the running before kick-off, lost 1-0 to the Netherlands, and although Korea Republic beat Honduras, it was not enough to reel in Cameroon in Group D. Australia lost 1-0 to Côte d’Ivoire and finished a frustrated third in Group A, but the greatest misery of all was reserved for China PR. Faced with a daunting task in their final group fixture against gold-medal favourites Brazil, the hosts ultimately finished on the wrong end of a 3-0 scoreline and bade a sad farewell to their home tournament.
But one man's pain is another man's pleasure, to paraphrase the saying and song, as all the teams from South America and Africa progressed to the last eight. The European contenders have also acquitted themselves well, as Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium booked spots in the quarter-finals, with only Serbia missing out.
"The European players have far greater opportunities. They hone their skills in top leagues and face the best teams. They gain lots of experience from that, and it’s a huge help in developing their game," reflected Japan coach Yasuharu Sorimachi.
The big game
Nigeria - USA
Nigeria’s 2-1 triumph against the USA was the surprise result of the final round of group matches. The Americans were top of Group B going into the concluding fixtures and basically required only a draw to make the quarter-finals. But it was not to be as second-placed Nigeria squeezed home 2-1 and leapfrogged the US into first place. To rub salt into the wound, the Netherlands’ victory over Japan in the parallel fixture saw the Stars and Stripes tumble to third and exit the tournament. Gerald Sibon’s penalty for the Dutch in Shenyang sealed the USA’s fate, although their troubles were partly of their own making as they spent much of the match against Nigeria with only ten men.
The other games
Argentina comfortably won Group A with maximum points from their three matches. Côte d’Ivoire sealed second spot with a 1-0 win over Australia. The most curious moment of the day was provided by Serbia keeper Vladimir Stojkovic, who saved both of Argentina man Angel Di Maria’s efforts in a twice-taken penalty.
Brazil matched Argentina with a nine-point haul in Group C, and also made the last eight without conceding a goal. Belgium battled to second place in the section and a quarter-final berth courtesy of a 1-0 success against New Zealand.
In Group D, Italy and Cameroon shared the spoils to confirm first and second place respectively, turning Korea’s 1-0 victory over Honduras into a dead rubber. However, Kim Dong Jin’s winner was the goal of the day, as he drilled home from 18 yards following a neat exchange of passes with Lee Keun Ho.
Brazil’s stars shone again in their 3-0 victory, but the brightest of the lot was Diego. The midfielder was the fulcrum of his side’s attacking efforts, providing an assist for Thiago Neves and scoring another goal himself. The mobile Werder Bremen playmaker has emerged as a key figure in coach Dunga’s side, continuing the fine form he had already displayed in the South Americans’ first two games.
9 - Argentina set a new Olympic record with a ninth consecutive victory in the Olympic Football Tournament. After winning all six of their matches at the 2004 games in Athens, they have completed their group fixtures in China without dropping points.
"We’re travelling the length and breadth of China. We started in Hong Kong, then it was Tianjin, we were here today and now we’ll be flying to Shanghai. I hope our tour ends in Beijing." Netherlands coach Foppe de Haan, when asked how he was enjoying China.
"Those guys are my boys and they played so hard. For me, they went into battle tonight and they have improved on the international stage. In my heart, the boys won the gold medal.” USA coach Peter Nowak on his side’s elimination at the group stage.
Côte d’Ivoire - Australia 1-0
Argentina - Serbia 2-0
Netherlands - Japan 1-0
Nigeria - USA 2-1
China - Brazil 0-3
New Zealand - Belgium 0-1
Korea Republic - Honduras 1-0
Cameroon - Italy 0-0
Brazil - Cameroon
Italy - Belgium
Argentina - Netherlands
Nigeria - Côte d’Ivoire