Olympics Day -1: Men’s Football Kicks Off

*Results will be at the end of each blog post. During the group stages of football and similar sports each post will be a summary of the day. Further into the competition, when there are less events and less clashes, each match will get its own post.*

With the Olympic opening ceremony fast approaching the lengthy Men’s Football competition got underway across Brazil. The organisers managed to cram in eight group matches into an 11 hour period starting with Iraq v Denmark and ending with Nigeria v Japan.

Unlike the Women’s Football there are more restrictions on how teams can qualify for the Olympics in the Men’s game. It is the countries under 21’s that can get the country there and then during the competition all players must be under 23 apart from three players (often a goalkeeper will be amongst the special older members of the squad).

All matches were available to watch on the BBC Red Button in the UK thanks to a variety of channel options but due to overlapping fixtures I am unable to provide you with a round up of all eight games.

Iraq v Denmark

The Denmark team nearly got off to a flying start after some well co-ordinated teamwork and communication from the older captain. But their first real shot just a few minutes into the game hit the post, sending the keeper onto his backside, allowing for Iraq to attempt a counter-attack.

When Iraq managed to have their first shot on target it came from good play and strategy but ended up being directed directly towards the keeper and into his gloves. As a chance presented itself they continued to put players into the box in the hopes of getting a crucial touch to the ball but some of the crosses lacked the precision and delivery that would be needed for a conversion into a goal.

The Iraqi team also showed great defensive methods and skill with a well timed sliding tackle to get that the ball cleared from a free kick well within the penalty box. It was evident that the Iraq team would be trying to avoid conceding corners however due to the noticable height advantage of their Danish opposition but when faced with aerial balls from free kicks several of the players proved they could leap high and get their head to the ball first to send it away.

But it seemed that the Denmark defense was not as organised and close knit as they will need it to be throughout the competition. The back line seemed out of shape and to not be communicating well from left to right leaving the keeper having to sprint out of his area, and almost out the box altogether, on several occassions early on.

As the game got well into the first half, despite Denmark winning numerous free kicks, the Iraq team were dominating the pace and allowing their goalkeeper to have a few moments just walking around his box calmly. Everytime one of the Iraqi players had a chance to get the ball but either did not convert it or ended up missing out on receiving it they showed great passion and regret. If a match could be won on want and desire then 30 minutes in the Iraq team would have smashed it out of the park.

A serious attacking moment came for the Danish side but it was smashed away by the goalkeeper but in doing so it fell for the rebound. Unfortunately for the Danes the Iraq players were ready to defend, which given their goalkeeper ending up doing a leap like a monkey trying to jump from one tree to another in the jungle rather off balance into the net rather than towards the ball, and cleared it away from the danger zone.

As the half time whistle went you could see a sense of relief on the faces of the Denmark team after being consistently outplayed for the first 45 minutes. The Iraq team would be seeking a chance to regather energies but hoping to remain pumped enough to continue their efforts when the match resumed.

When the second half got underway Denmark again had an early chance as they were awarded a free kick in a dangerous position but the Iraqi keeper, one of the shortest in the competition, was able to parry it away for a corner that the Danish could not capitalise.

The referee handed out the first card of the match just under ten minutes into the second half when he decided an Iraqi player brought down the Danish player Vibe a little too forcefully resulting in yet another free kick being curled towards the box but amounting to nothing.

As the second half progressed the Iraq team brought on fresh legs to be able to keep that previously shown pace and desire up. Whilst the Denmark team had been able to get a few more chances and moments of possession the Iraq team, despite tiring, continued to control the overall game but kept struggling to chase the ball down and find the target.

Eventually a Danish player also found their way into the referees book giving away a dangerous free kick just outside the box. The taker sends it flying through the wall and through the goalkeepers hands but are denied by the keeper getting his body to it to send it back into his gloves. From there the opportunities for Iraq kept pouring in but they continued to be unable to get the scoresheet to represent their efforts.

As another Danish player found their way into the book, as one of their first main contributions to the match, they gave away another free kick just outside the box for the Iraq team to have a chance from. Sadly the shot taker was rather one footed and was only able to curl it round the wall and into one place allowing the keeper to easily tip it over the bar. To Denmark’s despair the corner that followed caused several shots and moments of panic but it came to nothing and with just a couple of minutes to go the game remained 0-0.

But the Danish team being a bit slow and unconnected is slightly acceptable when you consider that several members of the team were playing a game in Northern Denmark on Monday night as the only way their clubs would allow them to be released for the Olympic team meaning they did not touch down in Brazil until 48 hours before the opening match. The Iraq team have showed great potential in this opening game and will hopefully be able to tidy up the end moments ahead of their next group games to score as they, from this performance, deserve.

Honduras v Algeria

The game got off to a start with a fairly slow and relaxed tempo with both sides figuring out the pitch, opposition and their own approaches. The casual approach allowed for time to admire the Honduras team kit and how good it looked on most of the squad.

Despite the slow start one of the Honduras players needed to receive emergency on the pitch treatment in the first ten minutes and took a few minutes to run the little niggle off. Given that each squad is only made up of 18 players the last thing a team with as little depth of Honduras needs in their first game is a serious injury.

But as the team got their thoughts back together and got on with the action they worked together well to get through on goal, have a shot and be able to score the rebound to give them a 1-0 advantage despite loud attempts to get it ruled out for offside by the Algerians.

And then an incredible moment as the Algerian keeper was left swinging off the bar to try and stop a ball but he missed it and the Honduras shot bounced down behind the line to make it an incredible 2-0. The Algerian defence really were having an absolute shocker in the first half of the match. Cringeworthingly bad.

As the halftime whistle went it was a dream start for the Honduras team and given they are in a group with Portugal and Argentina they need all the chances they can get if they want to progress through to the next round (at least as a best third place team). The Algerian team quickly left the pitch whilst having a little disagreement with the referee and linesman as they headed towards the changing room.

Even though it was an exciting first half this is where I leave the coverage of this game to instead watch the Brazil v South Africa game. The final score of this game will be available at the bottom of the blog.

Brazil v South Africa

This game was easily the most filled stadium of the competition so far and the home supporters were certainly cheering the Brazil team on. Because of the rules though it was quite amusing that Neymar was the captain of the Brazil squad.

Regardless of it being a match with a real home crowd and being a fairly full stadium the game largely started off quite dull and like both sides had weaknesses to do free kicks and make them anything like a real threat whilst Neymar did not seem to be communicating with the Brazil team to give them direction and increase effectiveness.

The South African team were able to make several breaks down the left and Brazil just kept letting it happening rather than altering formation to block it off. Unsurprisingly Neymar increased in selfishness as he started to take corners, free kicks and have shots towards goal rather than trying to integrate the team and form cohesion.

Luckily the defense of the South African team seemed to be fairly well in tune and able to discuss how to tackle set pieces. The goalkeeper, Khune, also was rather energetic and able to throw himself after the ball despite a rather unfit looking appearance. With the increase of Neymar, the most dangerous Brazil player on the pitch, taking every set piece it was increasingly important for the South African team to continue communicating. Both sides will be pleased to have the chance to take on fluids, have a moments break and discuss how to make more of an impact on the result of the game.

Like quite a few matches the first yellow card of the game happened just over ten minutes into the second half as a South African commited a clear foul one too many times. And with that the manager decided it was time to make a few changes to the team by bringing on a set of fresh legs for a player starting to tire. But the manager will be wishing that they had taken off the newly booked player because within just a couple of minutes of commiting the original carded offense they had received another yellow and were sent off.

As the game neared an end Neymar seemed to become a bit of a team player again and instead of attempting to ahoot when he easily could he passed it to a teammate to have a go instead. Sadly for him and the Brazil squad it did not come to anything and a fair while after South Africa went down to ten men they were still unable to break through the defense and get past the goalkeeper.

In the end the Brazil team were unable to break the stalemate against the ten man South African team much to the disappointment of the majority of the crowd. In the dying moments both teams were looking tired but Brazil could do no more than take hopeful long shots at goal which carried on being saved by Khune. Brazil will be very disappointed to have not got anybody onto the teamsheet and they will continue to face national pressure to perform and will their first footballing gold medal at the Olympics; if this performance is anything to go by then they will need to seriously rethink the approach for the following group games.

Portugal v Argentina

It seemed like Portugal were going to be taking an early lead after some well worked initial play but the flag was promptly raised just before the ball sent the net bulging. Despite being ruled offside the initial momentum uplifted Portugal further and continued to possess the ball with structure and certainty.

The Argentine team were having to react quickly and try to stop any gaps opening up as they were faced with the Portugal team doing a couple of quick touches before passing it on to the next player. Individual quick responses from the Argentina defenders helped to stop the ball from getting close to the net again and allowing for the goalkeeper to remain upright and ready for anything that should slip through the back line towards him.

Despite initially looking overwhelmed and swamped by the Portugal team Argentina were able to start moving the ball forward and having a few shots on target. The game quickly was being stretched from one box to the other with both sides desperately to out-pace, out-smarten and out-perform the opposition by getting on the score sheet first.

But an early goal did not come for either side and half way into the first half both teams were still trying to work their way forward with a deadly enough attack to overwhelm the opposition goalkeeper. A break in the tempo happened as players, especially from Portugal, seemed to need to conserve some energy for a bit later in the half and to be able to perform well without injury in the second half.

As half time approached there were a few moments of intense pressure and attempts on goal but nothing to seperate the two teams by goal. This is likely to be the toughest of games for both teams in their group so whilst they will be disappointed to not have the advantage at half time both sides will no doubt be pleased to still have a clean sheet and room for improvement available.

Very early into the second half Portugal were caught out in defence and if the dipping ball sent over the keeper had not hit the crossbar they would have been on the back foot. It was the first point in the game where the Argentina team had really managed to overwhelm the Portugal defence and break it down so completely but the balance was quickly restored to how it had been during the first half.

Suddenly Portugal’s number nine, Paciencia, had the ball crossed almost off the ground to him just outside the box and he had enough space to make two touches before hammering it clean past the keeper and into the back of the net.

Oliveira had his number called to be subbed off and refused for a moment resulting in a yellow card. During his resistance several of the Argentina players expressed anger and got into a little scrap with each other and the Portugal players whilst Oliveira was shuffling off the pitch. From here both teams increased tempo and aggression levels towards the ball and each other.

After scoring and with the clock ticking at the 85th minute Portugal were mainly focussing on keeping the ball and keeping a clean sheet when suddenly the ball fell to one of substitutes. The ball was kicked about as hard as is possible without bursting it and as a result the Argentina keeper just completely fumbled resulting in the ball bouncing right on past him into the back of the net to give Portugal a 2-0 lead.

Despite best efforts Argentina could do nothing to recover much to the delight of the Brazil crowd. Their lose opens up the group and the competition and will throw up a lot of questions as to whether they should be favourites to win the Olympic gold medal. Portugal have a great chance to now top the group and, if they keep up the performance, progress far into the competition.

Fiji v South Korea

Fiji got their Men’s Football team to the group stages of the Olympics for the very first time but playing South Korea in their opening game was expected to be a difficult challenge. The Fiji team were the ones to get the game underway in front of a fairly empty stadium.

They were able to get a couple of early chances in but nothing of real threat or concern to the South Koreans whilst they were also able to defend, rather physically, against the Koreans that kept attempting to close in.

The South Korean team had practically all of the possession and were slowly building up gameplay towards the goal but each time the Fiji players crowded the box and made it difficult for the Koreans to find space for the ball to pass through without sending it directly into the goalkeepers arms.

30 minutes into the first half and the South Koreans were still being held off by the Fiji players as the goalkeeper continued to put his heart and soul into blocking shots. But eventually their continuous efforts are rewarded and a sliding shot helps the ball find the back of net in the far bottom corner.

Shortly before half time the referee had to blow the whistle and point towards the penalty spot as a Fiji player completely needlessly took a Korean player down. But much to the amusement and cheers of the generally neutral crowd the shot went and hit the left side of the frame to keep Fiji trailing by only 1-0. A silly and potentially costly error luckily amounted to nothing unrecoverable.

As the half time whistle went the Fiji players were no doubt pleased to have only conceded one goal but also disappointed to be forced to defend so much. The South Koreans were doing slow and careful build up place but it was not really amounting to anything and are likely to have gone into the changing rooms for the halftime talk a little disappointed.

As the second half resumed and got back into full swing the South Korean team continued to press highly up the pitch and be putting a lot of effort into the game but the Fiji goalkeeper had clearly kept his momentum and been eating a lot of spinach recently to keep leaping around and punching the ball back up the pitch.

It was starting to seem like there was not going to be much of a breakthrough for the Koreans as the Fiji defence was looking strong but then in the space of a minute there lead had gone to 2-0 and then to 3-0 and then to 4-0. Suddenly the dream Olympic start for the Fiji team was looking well and truly out of sight and reach.

And just as you were thinking it could not get any worse for the Fiji team they ended up giving away another penalty and getting a yellow card for their troubles. Despite a lucky first penalty being saved by the post the goalkeepers luck was well and truly out as he went the wrong way to allow the ball to roll past him for the fifth time making it 5-0 in the 72nd minute. Then within a few more minutes the scoreline was flashing as 6-0. And just as they went into added time the Koreans made it 7-0 from a corner. If you thought that was it and that nothing else could happen with such a small amount of added time you would be wrong as the game ended 8-0 with a South Korean having the chance to grab his hattrick with the last kick of the game.

The Fiji team were doing so well for so long and it looked like they would be able to manage to keep the game to a respectable scoreline but in the end one goal going in seemed to cause most of the team to just give up and as a result the keeper could only do so much against the Korean team alone. Going forward they need to remember to not give up and try to do themselves proud. The scoreline will certainly give confidence to South Korea that they have the potential to win the group.

Nigeria v Japan

Nigeria arrived in Brazil seven hours before the match was due to start after their flight got delayed, because the place was too small, out of the US so a lot of people expected them to be a little weary in their opening match against Japan but also perhaps a tighter unit of experiencing the troubles together.

The Japanese started the better of the two teams in terms of getting initial chances and shots towards goals but they proved a little too weak in defense and were swamped by the Nigerian team. As a result a rebounded shot from the keepers gloves found its way into the back of the net to put Nigeria up 1-0 in six minutes.

But the Nigerian team ended up ruining their early lead by giving a penalty to the Japanese team. The run up was a little wonky but the ball thudded into the back of the net making it level pegging again at 1-1.

Sooner than you could blink though the ball was back up the other end of the pitch and getting crossed into the box resulting in Nigeria taking the lead again at 2-1. It was clear from these first ten minutes that the game was going to be action packed and very box to box.

If you thought it might settle down after Nigeria’s second goal you woulr be mistaken as Japan took the ball and instantly counter attacked to equalise yet again. In 12 minutes the scoreline was standing at 2-2.

The game started to settle and slow down though and half way through the first half everybody was starting to look a lot more settled and like they were following their plans for both defending and attacking. But even as both teams settled the Japanese defense continued to struggle, panic a little and hesitate to defend in the crucial moments as the ball kept getting whipped into the box by the Nigerians.

Eventually all of Nigeria’s attempts and the slightly weak and scared defending from Japan resulted in Nigeria scoring another goal with just less than five minutes of the first half remaining. The goal would have helped to give Nigeria a boost of having a lead to discuss in their half time team talks rather than just a couple of goals in the bag.

The second half got underway and the Nigerians continued to be dominant against the Japanese defense and as a result they were able to force an error from their opposition to get awarded a penalty that they were able to convert to make the scoreline 4-2 in the 50th minute. And again they were able to hold on for more than a minute without conceding showing that the Nigerian defense has really settled and tightened up.

As the Japanese player ran out to the edge of the box to slide kick away another attempt the ball ended up rebounding to allow Oghenekaro Etebo to hit the ball hard and long into the net for his fourth goal of the game to make it 5-2. But despite Nigeria seeming to really get into their stride the Japanese launched themselves forward and quickly made it 5-3 to give themselves a little extra hope and belief that they can get at least a point from the game.

The Nigerian team continued to tire as the match approached the last few moments after their travel and preparation difficulties combined with the heat and humidity started to get to them. They were also having to defend against the Japanese having four strikers on the pitch as well as piling their midfield up the pitch too and you could see them starting to want the full time whistle to go.

Both sides were unimpressed at having to play five minutes of added time as sweat continued to escape from everybody on the pitch. But the Japanese team were able to make the most of the added time to reduce their goal difference by making the final score 5-4.

Overall once Nigeria settled they seemed good defensively and well organised in midfield but they started to tire a lot near the end but that is more related to circumstance rather than individual player fitness. Japan will need to tighten up their defending and find a bit more bravery when doing so otherwise the other teams in the group will be able to exploit them in very similar ways to how the Nigerians did.

Overall Summary

  • With the Iraq v Denmark game being early afternoon in Brazil, and neither side being big footballing names, the stadium was incredibly and almost painfully empty.
  • Several of the players have already fallen victim to the Brazil sunshine and heat and were looking rather on the lobster/tomato scale of appearance.
  • The home nation of Brazil really needed to get off to a good start but were unable to make the most of the match today. There are several things they need to work on if they want to progress much further than the group stages in this competition.
  • The Portugal kits seemed to have a bit of an issue with the transfered letters and numbers sticking to them. Thoughout the game letters and numbers kept falling and flying off making it a challenge for viewers and commentators to know which player had the ball.
  • The 55th minute proved very popular for referees to hand out a yellow card as most games seen a card handed out between the 50th and 60th minutes.
  • Fiji’s kit looks like they might have asked the local people to design it and then vote on the best one. It has some interesting detailing on it that is very unusual for a football strip.
  • Pink goalkeeping kits are a massive thing in the Women’s and Men’s Football competitions this year. I want pretty much all of them.

Iraq v Denmark (Group A): 0-0

Honduras v Algeria (Group D): 3-2

Brazil v South Africa (Group A): 0-0

Mexico v Germany (Group C): 2-2

Portugal v Argentina (Group D): 2-0

Sweden v Colombia (Group B): 2-2

Fiji v South Korea (Group C): 0-8

Nigeria v Japan (Group B): 5-4

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