NEWCASTLE: The first rain of the 2012 Olympics fell on St James’ Park during the Group B match between Mexico and Korea Republic which ended goalless. At least, this time, the flags were correct.
The other game, later, saw Gabon gain a first-ever Olympic point after a 1-1 draw against Switzerland.
Both coaches had sent their respective teams out not to lose the game and this was evident in a tight opening in which tactical discipline was the order of the day. Indeed, the crowd had to wait 17 minutes for the first shot on target, which came from Arsenal forward Park Chu-Young’s direct free-kick.
As the half wore on, the South Koreans increased their foothold in the game, winning several corner kicks in quick succession and dominating possession. Yet, for all of their territorial advantage, chances were few and far between – with only Park Jung-Woo’s off-target free-kick the real opportunity of note.
Mexico’s only attempt on target in the opening 45 minutes came when Hector Herrera’s volley from Miguel Ponce’s cross was well held by Jung Sung-Ryong.
The pattern of the game was re-established after the interval when the Asians went close twice in as many minutes. First Koo Jae-Chol hit the bar and then Ki Sung-Yueng forced a fine save from Jose Corona.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Giovani dos Santos entered the fray as a substitute for Mexico in the 66th minute and he had two good chances to be the match-winner, most notably three minutes from time when his volley narrowly failed to hit the target.
Mexico almost snatched victory in the final minute when Raul Jimenez’s shot clipped the outside of the post.
Both teams play again on Sunday at the City of Coventry Stadium, with Mexico taking on Gabon before Korea Republic face Switzerland.
Gabon 1, Switzerland 1
Gabon, making their Olympic football debut, had earned a hard-fought point in their draw with the Swiss in Newcastle. The result left all four teams in Group B tied on one point apiece, setting up an intriguing second matchday.
Nervy Gabon were made to pay for their inexperience early in the contest when Henri Ndong lunged inside his own penalty area, committing a foul and conceding a spot-kick. Admir Mehmedi stepped up, and although he had to take the penalty twice, eventually made it 1-0 in the fourth minute.
The game quickly developed a physical edge, with some wild tackles and heavy contact all over the pitch. The Africans settled into their rhythm, though, and used their blinding speed to move up the flanks with a sense of purpose.
The Swiss should have doubled their lead in the 19th minute, but Mehmedi missed a golden chance to grab his second of the game when he got his feet tangled up.
Gabon striker Pierre Aubameyang, who plays his club football for Saint-Etienne in France, began to assert himself on the match. After 20 minutes, his pass set up Jerry Obiang, who hammered the ball against the crossbar.
Aubameyang then had two more chances in quick succession before finally aligning his shooting sights and getting the historic strike for Gabon. The livewire forward collected the ball just inside the box from a high cross, before slotting between the legs of Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio.
The second half was a cagey affair, with Gabon continuing to threaten an upset. Their hopes of pulling off a first-ever Olympic win grew in the 77th minute, when Switzerland’s Oliver Buff was shown a second yellow card for diving in the box and given his marching orders.
The Gabonese, however, were unable to take advantage and the match finished 1-1. The Swiss now take on Korea Republic on 29 July, while Gabon clash with Mexico in a section that is wide open after matchday one.
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