Switzerland-Gabon Preview

BY foxsports • July 25, 2012

In the second game of a Group B doubleheader at Newcastle's St James' Park, Gabon faces Switzerland as the opening day of men's soccer at the Olympics rolls on Thursday.

Group B kicks off with Mexico versus South Korea earlier in the day, and all four teams like their chances of progressing from one of the more open groups in the competition. Mexico and Switzerland are considered the favorites to reach the knockout stage, but nothing would be a surprise when all is said and done.

The London Games are Switzerland's first taste of Olympic soccer in 84 years, with the team qualifying thanks to an impressive performance at last year's under-21 European Championships, where it lost to Spain in the final. The Swiss FA's youth development program has helped forge a squad that plays strong passing soccer, while pace out wide means that the team's 4-1-4-1 formation retains cutting edge.

The decision of their respective clubs not to release key players Yann Sommer, Granit Xhaka and the superb Xherdan Shaqiri may damage Switzerland's chances later in the tournament, but manager Pierluigi Tami is still hopeful to make it out of group play.

Switzerland's opening-day opponents are the underdogs of Group B, but Gabon could cause some problems if it can recreate its title-winning form at the 2011 under-23 CAF Championships. There, it beat strongly-rated Egypt and Morocco on the way to winning the competition.

A solid defensive unit with pace out wide in the shape of Alex N'Doumbou and Charly Moussono, Gabon's chances may well hinge on the form of star player and goal-scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The team's hopes of springing a surprise, however, were dealt a blow when a tricky build-up to the tournament was damaged by the refusal of French club Lorient to release key defender Bruno Ecuele. The loss of such a critical player had manager Claude Mbourounot lowering expectations.

"I'm not sure what's happening with a replacement," Mbourounot said after the news broke. "Bruno is a very important player for us, but we will cope with the players we've got and adapt.

"Preparations haven't been going very well," he continued. "We've had difficulties implementing this program for a long time for several reasons that I cannot go into. But what is sure is that we are not well prepared."

Group B will resume for its second day of matches at the City of Coventry Stadium on Sunday, when Gabon faces Mexico and Switzerland plays Korea.

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