MANCHESTER: Brazil qualified for the Olympic quarter-finals after Neymar made two goals and scored with a superb free-kick to secure a 3-1 win over Belarus at Old Trafford. The venue’s other match saw Egypt draw 1-1 with New Zealand.
Mano Menezes’s side did not have it all their own way against their stubborn eastern European opponents, who took a shock early lead, but they were ultimately well worth the three points and can now begin looking forward to the latter stages. Belarus, meanwhile, stay second and will qualify with a win over Egypt in their final Group C match.
There were, however, occasional signs of the same defensive frailty that appeared in the 3-2 win over Egypt, with Belarussia’s Brazil-born No10 Renan Bardini Bressan able to sneak in unnoticed to head the opening goal after just eight minutes. The underdogs could hardly believe their luck, although their lead was to last just seven minutes, with Neymar curling over an inch-perfect, inswinging cross for Alexandre Pato to bullet home a header and restore parity.
Brazil were by far the more adventurous of the two sides, and both Hulk and Neymar came close with shots from outside of the area either side of half-time after showing terrific slight of foot to set themselves up for the opportunities. Oscar also went close, capitalising on an error by Belarus captain Stanislav Dragun to drive forward from halfway and rifle in a right-footed shot from 25 yards that was brilliantly tipped over.
The South Americans were in need of inspiration to break the deadlock, and it arrived in predictable form. Neymar, who had come close to a wonder-goal on a few occasions, provided the Theatre of Dreams with a strike to remember, curling a magnificent 30-yard free-kick up and over the Belarussian wall, across goal and into the top left-hand corner.
Nor was that the end of his contribution, with the Santos star showing superb skill – not to mention admirable unselfishness – to tee up Oscar for an equally impressive third as the final seconds of injury time ticked down.
Egypt 1, New Zealand 1
Egypt and New Zealand played out a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford which dents both sides’ dreams of qualifying for the quarter-finals of the tournament.
Following defeats in their opening games, the pair were in search of a victory which would keep their hopes of qualification from Group C alive.
The opening 45 minutes was much the same as the second, with Egypt dominating but failing to take the chances that were on offer. The pacy, direct style was a constant thorn in the side to the New Zealand defence, but it was the Kiwis who opened the scoring in the 16th minute through a set-piece.
A corner from the right was headed on by Tommy Smith to the far post where Chris Wood was lurking. The West Bromwich Albion forward made no mistake from close range despite failing to properly connect with the shot.
The goal brought about a positive reaction from the Egyptians and Emad Meteab and Mohamed Salah both had half-chances until the Africans got their reward six minutes before the half-time break. Mohamed Aboutrika’s excellent cross found Salah at the far post, who got in front of his marker to prod the ball home.
They could, and possibly should, have gone in front 60 seconds later. Eslam Ramadan whipped a dangerous ball into the box, but Meteab’s header flashed agonisingly across the face of goal.
Five minutes after the interval, a Meteab header forced a good save from Michael O’Keeffe. Ahmed Fathi and Aboutrika had chances too, but the Egyptians’ shooting was wayward.
New Zealand went close through Michael McGlinchey, but his header was well saved by Egypt goalkeeper Ahmed Elshenawi.
There was a grandstand finish at Old Trafford, home of so many late goals over the years. Meteab missed an unbelievable opportunity in injury time. Twelve yards from goal with the ‘keeper stranded, he somehow contrived to shoot over the bar when a side-footed effort would have surely won his side the game.
The action ebbed and flowed from one end to the other, but when the final whistle blew there were disappointed faces on both sides, who felt that they should have taken the three points from this game.
Both teams are in action again in the final group stage matches on Wednesday 1 August. Egypt meet Belarus in Glasgow while New Zealand face Brazil in Newcastle.
= = = =