CARDIFF: Neymar, South America’s Footballer of the Year, hit his first Olympic goal as Brazil set off in pursuit of a first Olympic gold with a 3-2 victory over Egypt but they very nearly allowed the Pharaohs an escape route. The other Group C game saw Belarus defeat New Zealand 1-0.

Star-studded Brazil looked like they were on their way to a stroll in the park against Egypt but the contest at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff was a tale of two halves.

Brazil wasted no time stamping their authority on the contest with Oscar, Hulk, Leandro Damião and Neymar combining to great effect in the attacking third. It took only 15 minutes for the South American champions to register a goal. Rafael combined with Oscar before the Manchester United man cut across the area and fired a low shot into the corner of the net.

The score was doubled 10 minutes after the opener when a long lob eluded the entire Egyptian defence and landed at the feet of the lively Oscar, who has just completed a move to English giants Chelsea. He rounded goalkeeper Ahmed El Shenawi and then crossed low for Leandro Damião, who had the simplest of tap-ins with the goal at his mercy.

Neymar, one of the expected stars of the tournament, put himself on the scoresheet in the 29th minute. He raced up the field with the ball, eluding defenders left and right, before laying it out wide for Hulk. The Santos ace was rewarded for his impressive approach work, heading home an inch-perfect cross from close range.

The Egyptians threw themselves a lifeline early in the second half as senior team hero Mohamed Aboutrika took advantage of a scramble in front of the Brazilian goal, banging the ball home after it rebounded off the post. With the score 3-1, the Egyptians began to pull themselves back into the game.

Five minutes after Aboutrika’s strike, Mohamed Salah was gifted the ball from Real Madrid star defender Marcelo, but he hesitated in front of goal and his effort was snuffed out by the retreating rearguard.

Salah made amends in the 75th minute, writhing and wriggling at the edge of the box before curling the ball into the side-netting with his left foot. The goal set up an enthralling finish, but in the end Brazil were able to hang on to their three-point haul. The Brazilians will next meet Belarus on Sunday in Manchester, while Egypt take on New Zealand.

Belarus 1, New Zealoand 0

Belarus were encouraged to maintain their dream of reaching the knockout stages a significant boost by beginning their quest with this victory over New Zealand in Coventry.

Georgy Kondratyev’s side, who finished third at last year’s UEFA U-21 Championship to reach London 2012, edged what was an even encounter for the majority of the match against their Oceania opponents.

Defender Ian Hogg almost gave New Zealand an opportunistic lead after nine minutes when, seeing that Belarus goalkeeper Aleksandr Gutor had strayed from his line expecting a cross, the 22-year-old shot at goal, but his effort sailed narrowly over.

Gutor saved a Chris Wood header four minutes later, before the European side created their first chances with 20 minutes played.

Taking a leaf out of Hogg’s book, Renan Bardini Bressan tried to score directly from a corner-kick but his audacious effort was thwarted by Kiwi ‘keeper Michael O’Keeffe.

From the subsequent corner, Belarus striker Sergei Kornilenko capitalised on hesitation among the New Zealand defence but his attempt at goal was blocked bravely by Michael McGlinchey.

Marco Rojas and Kornilenko traded long-range efforts at either end, with the former’s strike saved spectacularly by Gutor, before Belarus broke the deadlock right on half-time.

Again it was a corner delivery from Bressan but on this occasion O’Keeffe missed the ball completely, allowing midfielder Dmitry Baga a simple header to put Belarus a goal ahead at the break.

Belarus emerged for the second period with increased confidence but the Kiwis were determined and should have been level on 66 minutes.

Kosta Barbarouses played Wood through one-on-one with Gutor but the West Bromwich Albion striker rushed his finish and the chance was gone.

Kondratyev’s men dominated what remained of the match, however, and should have extended their lead. Kornilenko, Andrei Voronkov and Igor Kuzmenok all forced saves from O’Keeffe, and Kornilenko hit the crossbar, but the single goal proved enough.

The next round of fixtures in Group C take place in Manchester on Sunday, when New Zealand will meet Egypt before Belarus face heavyweights and section leaders Brazil.


= = = =