Mexico vs. Gabon: Bold Predictions for Game's Top Players
Although the Olympics officially began Friday evening, the first round of the men's soccer tournament kicked off on Thursday afternoon. The results for the most part weren't all that surprising. With the exception of Japan's shocking 1-0 upset over Spain, most of the other results went as expected by experts.
This includes Group B, a fascinatingly even group where every match so far has been a draw. Gabon, Mexico, South Korea and Switzerland all enter Sunday's second game tied with one point each. This brings an added importance to both games on Sunday with this group so closely contested.
The favorite for the group is Mexico. An impressive, young team that is considered a threat to win the entire tournament, Mexico is expected to make it out of group play. The same cannot be said for Gabon's soccer team, which has never qualified for the World Cup and is happy simply to be at the Olympics.
So will Mexico blow past Gabon and continue its march toward a gold medal? Or will Gabon shock us by pulling off the draw or even an upset win?
Here are my bold predictions for the clash between Mexico and Gabon on Sunday.
1. Mexico's Hot Defense Will Bend but Not Break
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One of the strengths of this Mexico team has been their defense. Carlos Salcido is great at defending, whether from the midfield or on defense. Jose de Jesus Corona is one of the better underrated goalkeepers out there.
Mexico has just not been allowing many points lately. They shut down a high-powered South Korea offense in Thursday's scoreless draw. It's now been nearly six months since Mexico has allowed multiple goals; the last game where that happened was a 2-0 loss to Colombia on February 29.
No offense to Gabon, but their offense is no South Korea. It basically runs through goal-scoring machine Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, so shutting him down will be key for Mexico's victory aspirations.
Although they will allow a few shots on goal, Mexico's defense will tighten up around the goal line. Even with them losing the possession battle, Mexico's defense will tire out Gabon's offense.
The question remains as to whether Mexico can generate enough offense to get the win.
2. The Game Will Feature Top-Notch Acting
Sometimes I wonder why Hollywood doesn't send talent agents to international soccer competitions. Because, quite frankly, many of the fake dives, subtle trips and public displays of personal agony are things of beauty. It is quite possible that some soccer players missed their other calling in life and we are being robbed of potential Oscar-winning films.
In all seriousness, though, both Mexico and Gabon aren't super-dramatic teams. For the most part, they play the beautiful game with the seriousness that it deserves.
So why do I think there will be drama? Well, with the intensity of the Olympic stage and the fact that both teams are currently tied in the standings, this could be a very tightly contested game. Especially if Gabon plays with some fight and gets in the correct upset mentality.
Don't be surprised if this game hinges on some sketchy penalty caused by a great acting performance.
3. Mexico Will Score Early
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With tension in the air and a possible upset looming, Mexico will make a push for an early goal. They will be hoping to set the tempo quickly and remove any notion of an upset from the minds of Gabon's players.
The strategy will work, as Mexico will score within the game's first 20 minutes. Mexico will then rejoice while Gabon's goalkeeper shakes his head in horror.
Being down 1-0 early, it will be key to see how Gabon responds. They will need mental fortitude to keep their defense strong while also patiently looking for a way to equalize.
4. Gabon Will Dominate the Stat Sheet
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Ultimately, Mexico's quick-strike plan will backfire on them. Gabon will reassess their strategy and adapt the game into a hard-fought defensive battle. This will leave the game at 1-0 during halftime, with Mexico feeling worried and Gabon feeling like they are still in the game.
And they will be, at least stats-wise. Gabon will dominate with possession and passing accuracy. However, once near the goal, their offense will stall and they will have severe difficulty getting good shots off.
Although he won't get many shots on goal, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will make some beautiful passes. He and midfielder Alexander N'Doumbou will do their best to keep Gabon's offense alive.
5. Mexico Will Put in a Late Dagger, Win 2-0
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Although they will perform valiantly and legitimately scare Mexico, ultimately, Gabon will be unable to stay in the game. Mexico will accentuate their win with a goal from who else but forward Giovani Dos Santos. After spending some early time on the bench, Dos Santos will be fresh and he will respond with getting his team in place for victory.
Though they will get some shots, Gabon will not score. Mexico will move on with another shutout latched under their belt and possession of first place in Group B. Meanwhile, Gabon will take heart in their good game and hope for things to fall in place so they can sneak into second place in the group.
Mexico 2, Gabon 0