Action in men’s football began a day ahead of the official start to the Rio Olympic Games. Hosts and title favorites Brazil couldn’t get past a defiant South Africa, who played with 10-men after an hour, when a South African defender earned his second yellow card. In the Group A match full of close chances, FC Barcelona forward Neymar couldn’t engineer a winning start for the hosts at Brasilia just as Brazilian women had done at Rio de Janeiro yesterday against China. But worse was the case with Argentina as they suffered a 0-2 loss against Portugal in the second Group D match at Olympic stadium Rio de Janeiro. In three other matches that brought positive results on August 4, Korea thrashed Fiji 8-0 in Group C at Salvador, Honduras defeated Algeria in Group D at Rio de Janeiro and Nigeria beat Japan 5-4 in a Group B goal-fest at Manaus. Including the Brazil-South Africa match, four matches on Thursday ended as drawn games. Iraq drew 0-0 with Denmark in Group A at Brasilia; Mexico and Germany were locked 2-2 in the Group C match at Salvador and Sweden drew 2-2 with Colombia in Group B at Manaus.
While official opening ceremony of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad at Rio de Janeiro is still several hours away, football has already made the beginning. Six women’s matches were played on Wednesday and eight Group-phase games in men’s football ended on Thursday. In the first two matches in Group A, no goals could be scored and the spectators at the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha in Brasilia were disappointed. They didn’t mind the first game between Iraq and Denmark ending in goalless draw but felt sad that in the next match, hosts Brazil couldn’t win against South Africa, despite creating many goal-scoring chances. Brazil’s three stars; Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Barbosa attacked the South African goal but couldn’t succeed in striking through. The best chance came for Jesus in 69th minute, but the youngster missed an open net and could only strike the post. Incidentally, Jesus has recently been signed by EPL side Manchester United. After the 59th minute, South Africa played with 10 men since defender Mothobi Mvala was sent out after earning his second yellow card. But Brazil couldn’t extract any benefit from playing against the depleted side for more than 30 minutes. All Neymar could earn from the goalless draw were loud jeers by some of the home fans.
Both Group D games at the Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro produced results. In the first Honduras edged out Algeria 3-2. Romell Quioto put Honduras 1-0 ahead in 13th minute before Marcelo Pereira made it 2-0 in the 33rd. But Honduras’s 2-0 half time lead was reduced to 2-1 by Algeria’s Sofiane Bendebka. The score became 3-2 with Honduras striking again in 79th minute through Antony Lozano but 5 minutes from close, Algeria’s Baghdad Bounedjah pulled back another goal and Honduras won at 3-2. In the next Group D game, Argentina were laid low by Portugal, who scored two second half goals for a 2-0 finish. Playing without their stars Ronaldo and Messi, the two soccer powers were nearly level until halftime, which ended at 0-0. Argentina had launched a few counter-attacks but couldn’t find the net. Early in the second half, Argentina came close to scoring, when Johnathan Calleri chipped the ball over Portugal goalkeeper Bruno Varela but the ball bounced off the crossbar. Portugal went 1-0 ahead in 66th minute with a goal from Paciencia, who produced a low shot from the top of the box that beat the Argentine goalkeeper Rulli. The second goal from Portugal’s Pite in 84th minute was like a gift by Argentina. Pite’s long-range shot was mishandled by Rulli, who allowed it to slip between his legs for the 2-0 win for Portugal.
After Mexico and Germany ended their Group C match 2-2 at Salvador, Korea thrashed first-time entrant Fiji 8-0. After a scoreless half-hour, Korea took only a 1-0 halftime lead before going on a rampage with goals in 62nd, 63rd, 72nd, 77th, 90th and 93rd minutes. Ryu Seungwoo scored thrice, Kwon Changhoon twice and Son Heungmin converted a 72nd minute penalty to complete the whitewash.
In the first Group B match at Manaus, Colombia fought back hard against Sweden to secure a 2-2 draw but the second match saw a goal fest. Nigeria were short of preparation time due to their late arrival in Brazil but still managed to defeat Japan 5-4. In a nail-biting thriller, Nigeria opened the scoring with a 6th minute goal by Sadiq Umar but Japan equalized 3 minutes later through Shinzo Koroki, who converted a penalty. It was now time for the Nigerian Oghenekaro Etebo, who obtained a 2-1 lead for his team in the 11th minute but Japan found the equalizer in the 13th minute. But Etebo scored again in 42nd minute and Nigeria led 3-2 at halftime. 6 minutes after the break, Etebo made Nigeria’s lead 4-2 and enhanced it to 5-2 with a 66th minute penalty. However, the Japanese didn’t relent as Takuma Asano and Musashi found the net in 70th and 95th minutes but still lost 4-5 to Nigeria. The next set of Group-phase games will be played on Sunday August 7.