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Messi: Olympic Star
Pre-season is virtually over, the Group stage draw for the Champions League is a few weeks away and football fans all over Europe are looking forward to the start of another exciting season.
It is therefore no surprise that the small matter of the Olympic Games and more importantly, the football tournament has gone by un-noticed.
The South American nations may place more importance on the tournament than their European counterparts but it is a major tournament with some star names. And after having watched so many meaningless friendly matches, is it not good to see some real competitive action once again?
Lionel Messi Takes Centre Stage
A lot of the pre-tournament focus fell upon some of the star name players who were being asked to represent their nation whilst their clubs were up in arms. There were a great number of players who were placed in this position but none more so than Lionel Messi from Barcelona.
The Spanish La Liga season doesn’t start until after the tournament is over so Barcelona had no real problems with the prospect of their star man representing Argentina.
Of course, that all changed when Barcelona dropped down to third place last season and realised they would be forced to play in the Qualifying round for the Champions League group stages.
Suddenly the thought of Lionel Messi missing these vital matches caused the Catalan giants some great concern and for a while it looked as though the diminutive star would not be present in Beijing.
At the last minute it was decided that Messi could play in the tournament, this may have been influenced by the kind draw that greeted Barcelona in the 3rd round of the Champions League. However, the crowd in stadium on Thursday August 7th were still unsure if Messi would play and there were great roars of approval when his name was read out for the Ivory Coast versus Argentina game.
Big League Experience in Many Squads
Almost on the stroke of half-time, there was no surprise as the Barcelona star broke he deadlock and sent Argentina on their way. The Ivory Coast battled back strongly in the second half and looked to be on their way to securing a draw against one of the tournament favourites. However, Messi was not to be denied and with 7 minutes to go after his initial shot was blocked, he passed to Lautaro Acosta who finished sealing victory for the Argentineans.
The next match for Argentina is a match against Australia, who have a team mixed with local players and a select few plying their trade in Englands Premier League and Championship. Australia’s first match ended in a 1-1 draw with Serbia with their goal being scored by Fulhams Ruben Zadkovich. This set of results ensured that Argentina sat at the top of Group A after the first round of matches. No doubt further expectations will be on Lionel Messi to create some magic again and push Argentina further onto expected glory.
Group B featured Japan, United States, Netherlands and Nigeria with the US taking an early advantage by sneaking a 1-0 victory over the Japanese team. The United States currently sit top of the group due to Nigeria holding a relatively strong Dutch side to a goal-less draw. A star man in the Dutch squad was striker Roy Maakay but not even he could break the stalemate in a match that saw Celtic’s Evander Sno sent off in injury time.
USA Tipped to Shine
There is every chance that the Americans will be able to compete strongly in the event as they too have a squad with a lot of experience. In goals is Brad Guzan who has very recently signed for Aston Villa and includes Freddy Adu, the wonderkid of American football who is currently playing for Benfica in Portugal.
In addition to this, Brian McBride brings a few years experience of top flight in England and Jozy Altidore is currently playing in La Liga for Villarreal.
Ronaldinho Remains Off The Pace
Group C features Brazil and they have Ronaldinho in their squad. Barcelona were not too keen to allow him to join his national team but the stars move to AC Milan has removed this impediment and he was involved in his countries opening match. He failed to sparkle though and admitted he is still a few weeks off full fitness. There may be unkind observers who have witnessed the player in Barcelona for the past two seasons and may suggest a longer period than a few weeks is required to return Ronaldinho to former glories.
Nevertheless, Brazil ground out a 1-0 over Belgium with Hernanes clinching the winner with around ten minutes to go of a dull match. Brazil have a fairly strong squad with players from clubs of all of Europes major countries represented and if they get into their stride will be strongly tipped to finish amongst the honours this time. Brazil have yet to clinch the Olympic Gold in soccer and there is undoubtedly a lot of pressure being applied to coach Dunga to ensure that the team returns home triumphant.
Brazil are in a group with host nation China who recorded a 1-1 draw with New Zealand in their opening match. A late equaliser from Manchester United player Dong Fangzhou salvaged a point which may be vital if the hosts are to progress from a tough group.
Italy Grab Impressive Victory
Group D saw Italy make the most impressive start to the campaign as they recorded a 3-0 victory over Honduras to establish an early lead at the top of the table. The other teams in their group, Cameroon and South Korea, could only manage a 1-1 draw which leaves qualification wide open in their group. With the runner up likely to face Brazil in the quarter final match, it may be a poisoned chalice finishing in second place in Group D.
Although there is a lot of football to be played before the knock-out stages the early favourites has already got into a position where they look likely to progress. If the tournament goes to plan there could be some potentially huge semi-final matches and the all South American final between the two footballing giants is still a possibility.
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