Olympic Soccer 2012: Upsets Waiting to Happen in Group Stage
It's not everyday that you get a massive upset before an event has formally begun. But that is exactly what we got with the men's Olympic soccer tournament as Japan shocked Spain 1-0 the day before the Opening Ceremony even took place.
Of course, it is necessary to put a bit of an asterisk next to that result as it was Spain's under-23 Olympic team that took the fall and not Spain's fully loaded national team. You know, the one that won the 2010 World Cup and then followed that up with a Euro 2012 title.
Nevertheless, there is no way to deny that Japan's win over Spain was a bona fide stunner and changed the landscape of the entire tournament.
The real question now is this: Was Japan's win the beginning of the upsets in the group stage of the 2012 men's Olympic soccer tournament—or was it the end?
I believe there are a few more upsets just waiting to happen in the group stage.
No, it might not resemble March Madness, but all soccer/football fans should keep their eyes open as the ride might get a bit more wild over the next week.
Let's take a closer look at the four groups and see where additional upsets might be had.
Group A: Don't Sleep on Senegal
In Group A, while Great Britain will have a huge home field advantage, Uruguay seems to be the strongest team in this group.
Still, Uruguay had a difficult time getting rid of the UA Emirates in their opening game, eking out a tough 2-1 win.
As for Great Britain, they had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Senegal.
Speaking of Senegal, they have been considered by many to be the dark horse of Group A, and I am firmly on that bandwagon.
After grabbing a point from the host nation, Senegal will now look for more as they take on Uruguay—and this is a big upset just waiting to happen.
If they are a dark horse, then Senegal has not shown any signs of believing they are any such thing. They played fearlessly with an entire nation rooting against them, and for all intents and purposes, by drawing with Great Britain, it might as well could be considered a win.
Now they get set to take on the Group A favorites in just a few hours, and that will be no easy task. Uruguay is very capable of scoring in bunches while at the same time being able to play a very stingy defensive game.
Senegal should have gotten a great confidence boost from their tie with Great Britain.
Uruguay's confidence might have taken a hit as the UA Emirates gave them more of a challenge than they anticipated.
Senegal will give them an even greater challenge. Goals from Cheikhou Kouyate and Idrissa Gueye will be enough as Group A gets turned upside down with a 2-1 Senegal win.
Group B: Swiss Surprise
After one game for each team, nothing has been decided in Group B. All four teams gained a point after their first games.
When one takes a good, hard look at Group B, Mexico would have to be considered the favorite with South Korea a close second.
But the team I am looking at to crash the party is Switzerland. True, Switzerland does not have their full complement of players and is missing some standout players, like Xherdan Shaqiri.
But after a 1-1 tie with Gabon in their opening game, the supposedly undermanned Swiss are as much in the running for the Group B title as the other three teams.
Switzerland will now, however, be tested as they will take on South Korea in their second game, followed up by the final group stage game against Mexico.
I think Switzerland will gain a draw with South Korea and that will set up the upset waiting to happen in Group B, namely Switzerland's game against Mexico on Aug. 1.
It will be no easy task as the Mexican under-23 team can play with any other under-23 team in the world—when they are on their game.
The contest against South Korea was equal parts promising and frustrating for Mexico and its fans. Mexico controlled large portions of the game but missed many opportunities and could not score.
From a defensive standpoint, the Swiss are more solid than the Koreans so Mexico might very well find the going even rougher in the game against Switzerland.
The question then becomes can the Swiss generate enough of an attack to grab a lead against Mexico and then, in all likelihood, hold on for dear life?
I think so. Switzerland will get a late goal from Admir Mehmedi and will shock Mexico 1-0 to advance to the knockout stage.
Group C: The Healing Begins
For soccer/football fans who do not have a vested interest in any of the teams competing—such as those in the USA—the Egyptians may very well be the team to root for.
It was back in February, after a league match, when a violent riot broke out leaving more than 70 dead and decimating Egypt's soccer program in the process (h/t ESPN). For Egypt, the Olympics would be the staging ground for their own redemption, even though by most experts' reckoning they would have to be considered heavy underdogs.
In their first game, the Egyptians played gamely but came up just short against Brazil in a 3-2 loss. With Belarus downing New Zealand, considered by some to be another dark-horse team, the odds against Egypt advancing to the knockout stage increased considerably.
But the schedule is actually favorable for Egypt to get back into contention. Brazil and Belarus will square off next while Egypt and New Zealand will tangle in a huge matchup.
If Egypt can beat New Zealand, and Brazil can get the best of Belarus, then the table could be set for a potential upset in the making on Aug. 1 when Egypt will play Belarus.
Egypt demonstrated that they can score, as proved in their gritty loss to Brazil. Belarus did just enough to get past New Zealand.
If Egypt can put a couple of goals home, then I do not think Belarus will be able to match that sort of production.
I believe Egypt will get past New Zealand while Belarus will struggle against Brazil, thereby setting up an all or nothing battle against Belarus.
Playing with something to prove, and then some, Egypt will get two goals from Emad Meteab to upset Belarus and advance to the knockout stage of the Olympic tournament—and will begin to put the pain of the February riot behind them in the process.
Group D: Slaying the Dragon
Group D already saw a major upset with Japan's stunning win over Spain.
But there is another Group D upset lurking in the shadows, and the team I am looking at to pull that upset is not Japan—but Honduras.
After the first game, Honduras sits tied with Morocco for second position in the group. The two teams now alternate games against Spain and Japan, no easy task to say the least.
While it is tempting to state that Honduras can upset Spain in its next game, I think Spain will play a very spirited game and will salvage a draw against Honduras.
That would mean that the final game, against Japan on Aug. 1, could very well determine the second team from Group D to advance to the knockout stage.
After upsetting Spain, many people have got to consider Japan as the favorite to win Group D. They may be right, but that does not somehow mean that Japan is now unbeatable. As big as the win over Spain was, it could create with Japan a sense of overconfidence that could be exploited by a team like Honduras.
That is what I think will occur and it could result in a real shakeup of Group D once all the dust settles. Honduras has very good team speed and they seem to have more firepower than does Japan.
Even though Japan is usually one of the better disciplined teams in the world, Honduras will get two quick goals from Maynor Figueroa and Andy Najar, forcing Japan to modify the way they like to play the game.
Japan will fight, claw and scratch to get back into the game, but will still fall 2-1 to Honduras, sending Honduras to the knockout stage and leaving the rest of the group in a rather uncertain state.
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