Mexico to offer speed and flair
26 Jul, London 2012 (Group B): Mexico v South Korea (St James’ Park, 2.30)
It’s hard to gauge how any country will line up for today’s men’s football kick offs at London 2012 as it’s a case of picking players of age rather than skill or form so it’s a bit of a conundrum for us at TSF. However, with Spain the overwhelming favourites and the South American duo of Brazil and Uruguay hot on their heels, we turn to Group B for my immediate attention.
In this wide open group, we have the Latin flair and speed of the Mexicans, the guile of the Swiss, the attacking capabilities of the South Koreans and the unknown quantity in African youngsters Gabon. It’s finely balanced alright but the team with the best defence should come out on top.
This will be Mexico’s tenth appearance at the Olympic Games and they take it very seriously. They reached the semi-finals in 1964 and the quarter-finals in 1996. Mexico won all five matches at the Concacaf Championship, smashing in 26 goals and conceding only three. “El Tri” will be looking to add to their triumph at the under-17 World Cup and their third-place finish at the under-20 World Cup last year.
Although most of the squad is unknown on these shores, they do have one or two familiar names – particularly Giovani dos Santos, of Tottenham Hotspur. Mexico will need his trickery to get around the know-how of the organised Koreans. The onus will also be on Oribe Peralta and Marco Fabian to get the goals that Mexico will need if they are to break the resistance of their opponents.
South Korea turn up at St James’ Park having reached the quarter-finals on two previous occasions. Celtic dynamo Ki Sung-Yeung is one under the spotlight, for a few Premier League sides – most notably Queens Park Rangers and Newcastle United – are said to be interested. The 23-year-old “Gerrard-esque” midfielder has already amassed 45 caps for the seniors and his valuation could rocket with a decent showing at the Olympics.
Kim Bo-Kyung is a flying winger for Korea with an eye for goal; another name to watch is midfielder and captain Koo Ja-Cheol, who will make things tick in the middle of the park. It’s in defence where Korea usually struggle but, in qualifying, they conceded a miserly two goals in six games and scored only eight, so this suggests they have tightened their weaknesses.
Mexico will come flying at them and I expect a game full of chances and goals. It’ll be end-to-end stuff with loads of action. However, I expect Mexico to sneak over the line and collect the three points.
Prediction: Mexico 3, South Korea 2
26 Jul, London 2012 (Group B): Gabon v Switzerland (St James’ Park, 5.15)
In Group B’s second game, you would expect the European side to have too much knowledge for their young African counterparts, but as history will tell you, underestimate African sides at your peril in major championships. This is the first time that Switzerland have qualified for the Olympic Games since 1928 and they finished as runners-up in 1924 to win the silver medal.
However, this current Swiss squad reached the final of the European under-21 tournament in Denmark last year, earning them an automatic berth in London, so they will fancy their chances of making an early marker in this year’s competition.
The Premier League is represented by Aston Villa goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist, who will start on the bench as the Swiss will go with experienced Wolfsburg stopper Diego Benaglio. He is included as an over-age player. In midfield is the 20-year-old Fulham midfielder Pajtim Kasami.
In attack, they have Admir Mehmedi, of Dinamo Kiev, and the homegrown pairing of Josip Drmic and Steven Zuber. Their prominent striker is Lorient’s Innocent Emeghara, who made his senior debut against England last year and has been in impressive form in his debut season with the French side.
On any given day, you would expect the Swiss to have too much for the African newcomers … but as this is effectively under-23 football, anything can happen. This may be a maiden appearance for the Gabonese and many will see them as the whipping boys but they should not be underestimated after beating Ivory Coast and South Africa in qualification for a place at London 2012 so they do carry a threat.
Players to watch are Andre Biyogho, who has recently signed for Bordeaux in Ligue 1 and Pierre Aubameyang, who has had a stellar season for Saint-Etienne. The 23-year-old was a key member of the Gabon side that reached the quarter-finals of the African Cup of Nations (ACN), scoring three goals in the tournament and also helping himself to 16 goals for Saint-Etienne in France’s top league.
Gabon are current CAF under-23 champions and the strongest African side in the tournament so they could well turn out to be the surprise package of the Olympics. After watching them in the ACN, they are no pushovers. Young they may be but quitters? Not a chance. I expect a close game.
The pressure is all on Switzerland to ensure that they get three points. However, I see Gabon putting a spanner in the works.
Prediction: Gabon 1, Switzerland 1