Mali, Korea still with points to prove
Mali and Korea Republic may need a point from their final fixture in Group A to guarantee passage into the quarter-finals of the Olympic Football Tournament, but the prize of a move to Athens' Olympic Village is too tempting for the players to go for anything less than a win.
"We spent a few days there already and the atmosphere is wonderful," said Mali's French-born midfielder Momo Sissoko. "We are determined to finish top of the group and return to mix again with the other athletes."
Mali followed up a goalless draw against Mexico with a breathtaking 2-0 victory against the hosts that, at the final whistle, drew the applause of the locals at the Kaftanzoglio stadium in Thessaloniki.
"That really touched my heart," said Sissoko. "If their team is eliminated I hope the Greek public will follow us. Supporters are like that - they are loyal to a team they have enjoyed watching."
Learn and enjoy
On their first visit to an Olympic competition, Mali seem capable of retaining the crown for black Africa even if their coach Oumar Kone insists "we are here to learn".
"We are not one of the favourites. We just want to enjoy the moment," emphasises the coach, who has retained the same squad that knocked out reigning champions Cameroon in qualifying. "I wanted to keep the same boys together for a longer period."
Incisive in attack, technically adept and with an aggression perfectly controlled, they dominated possession, reducing the hosts Greece to a few long-range shots. Their goals came from Mamadi Berthe and Tenema Ndiaye.
"We were very disciplined and fully concentrated and proved we have an excellent team," added Sissoko. "I am definitely dreaming of a gold medal."
Korea, meanwhile, are anxious to give their Red Devil support something to cheer about after the early exit of the senior side at the Asian Cup behind. Despite conceding two late goals against Greece in their opening game, they have carried on the fine form they showed in qualifying, and in the win versus Mexico, scored their trademark 1-0 scoreline.
From their highly rated goalkeeper Kim Young-kwang, to veteran defender Yoo Sang-chul through to the big-man, small-man attacking threat of Cho Jae-jin and Lee Chun-soo, there is a strong backbone to the side.
"We are a young and experienced team but despite that we have played maturely," said Yoo Sang-chul, one of their over-23 players. "There is more to come from this group."
Japan's early elimination will not have gone unnoticed and Korea's new, exciting crop will be desperate to reward their vociferous supporters with a best ever finish at the Games.
Then there is the future. Following Korea's sensational performances in reaching the semi-final as co-hosts of the 2002 FIFA World Cup™ much will be expected of the senior team should they reach Germany, now less than two years away. If the new batch of Taeguk Warriors can return home with an Olympic medal, it would add precious weight to claims for a place in 2006.
With so much at stake, a draw will be the last thing on the minds of players from Korea and Mali on Tuesday.