Favorites failed to deliver promise
Spain crashed out of the Olympics Wednesday night in spectacular fashion, failing to score a single goal as the Games put several favorites to the torch. Uruguay joined them at the exit as a third match in seven days offered up some tired teams and some flat football.
Neither Spain nor Uruguay had looked like the favorites they were touted to be, and both squads exits show how wild and unpredictable these Olympics have been.
Spain came into the tournament boasting a handful of world-class players and had real hopes of a medal. They leave with more questions than answers, finishing dead last in a group that hardly included world-beaters.
Manager Luis Milla tried to put the best face on things, blaming his side’s inability to score on ill luck. In truth, this was a terrible show from a group that had more promise than accomplishments under its collective belt.
The Uruguayans, boasting Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, never really caught fire and in Cardiff, where the ungainly-named “Team GB” took advantage. The hosts’ 1-0 Group A victory over Uruguay relied on equal parts resilience and effort, the goalkeeping of emerging star Jack Butland, and just enough of an attack.
It was a clever bit of work from Joe Allen to set up Daniel Sturridge’s first half stoppage time goal. Sturridge was at the far post after Allen wiggled his way through traffic on the left side of the box before releasing the pass that wrong-footed the Uruguayan defense.
On the flip side, it’s Egypt who have become the feel-good story of the tournament. In the wake of the Port Said stadium disaster, Egyptian soccer has been suspended, meaning that Under-23 boss Hany Ramzy had to prepare his team without the benefit of any league play for his squad.
On Wednesday, the Pharoahs rose to the challenge and took control of their Group C match with Belarus from the start. Mohamed Salah, Eslam Ramadan and the inspirational Mohamed Aboutrika put things beyond doubt late to insure that the young Egyptian side would achieve a morale-boosting trip to the quarterfinals against some very difficult odds.
In sum, the Brits, Brazil, Japan, and Mexico finished top of their Olympic groups Wednesday to lead the way into the quarterfinals. Saturday’s tilts will match the hosts against South Korea, Brazil against Honduras, Mexico against Senegal and Japan against Egypt.
While the Brazilians will no doubt be clear gold medal favorites – with Mexico as potential spoilers – the hosts appear to be gathering steam at just the right moment. The Brits delivered after a nervous opening day draw against Senegal and now have legitimate hopes of a medal. Unfortunately, they face a tough and unbeaten South Korea side and have the problem of a potential Brazil match after the quarterfinal stage.
The favorites rested Oscar for all but 10 minutes, but didn’t miss their stylish playmaker as Brazil easily swept aside New Zealand to finish atop Group C. Goals from Danilo and Leandro Damiao six minutes apart just before the half hour effectively settled the match, with Sandro adding another goal in the second half. Brazil had no need to lift the pace of play or strive for more so the remaining time was simply played out.
Brazil did have Alex Sandro sent off for collecting two yellow cards, but as he had not started either of their first matches his suspension for the quarterfinal probably would not appear to be a major issue.
In Group B, dark horses Mexico absorbed plenty of first half pressure from Switzerland and then turned on their game after the interval, winning 1-0. Oribe Peralta slipped through to meet a neat touch-pass from Giovani dos Santos in the 69th minute.
That goal left the Mexicans on top of the group with South Korea joining them in the quarterfinals after playing a 0-0 draw against Gabon at Wembley Stadium. A crowd of 76,000-plus saw some good build-up for the Koreans and some astonishingly poor finishing to say the least.
That Korean performance will surely cheer the hosts. But there isn’t any solace for Spain and Uruguay, only ugly questions.