Folks, we are in for an incredible next three weeks. The Olympics are firmly underway with today’s start to the men’s soccer tournament, and let me tell you that the matches today couldn’t have gotten any better than what we saw. There were eight total matches played this afternoon, with the two most important matches being Spain vs. Japan and Great Britain vs. Senegal, but every match had its own flavor and was worth watching if you are a true sports fan.
I’m an American soccer fan, so obviously I’m beyond disappointed that the USA is not represented in this year’s Olympic tournament. The U-23 squad laid a huge egg in not qualifying for this tournament, and while they probably would not have been a medal contender anyways it really does suck that my country is not represented in a tournament of this magnitude. Instead I have to pull for countries that have been historically better at soccer than the United States, and naturally that means I’m pulling for England (Great Britain) to pull this tournament out on their home soil. As a soccer fan, I’m also hoping for an incredible tournament from all teams, and I realize that there are teams that play a more aesthetically pleasing game than the Great Britain style so I’m definitely watching for that as well. If today’s matches were any indication than this tournament will definitely live up to any hype that it has garnered since it was announced that “football” would be a major part of these Olympic Games.
Spain vs. Japan
I’ll admit this isn’t a match that watched too much of, but when I turned it on around the 70th minute I was extremely surprised with what I saw on the scoreboard and was truly captivated. Japan was up one goal to none, and I later learned that the goal was scored by Japanese forward Yuki Otsu who scored a relatively easy tap-in goal by putting the ball past Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea in the 34th minute. I was also shocked to learn that Spain went a man down only a few minutes after the goal, and they really never got themselves back into the game. For people who don’t follow soccer that closely, Spain is the power in the world right now, so for them to lose at any level is shocking. Spain ended up losing today’s match by that 1-0 score-line, sending shockwaves throughout the world that even might have caused Twitter to go down. For them to lose the first match of the Olympics is almost unbelievable, but it did happen today. No team has ever come back to win a gold medal after losing their first match, but with how good Spain has been at the senior national team level over the past decade I wouldn’t be surprised to see them pull off an Olympic first with their U-23 team here.
Great Britain vs. Senegal
I’ll put this out there right now, I’m rooting for Team Great Britain to take care of business at home. Now, I am of Irish descent (not to be confused with Northern Ireland, which is a part of Great Britain), but without my country making a showing in this tournament I’d like the hosts to have a great showing and earn a medal. This is really an England U-23 team, as other countries affiliated with Great Britain told their players not to become involved with this team for fear that FIFA would start to associate all the island countries as one single entity, and you have to respect everyone involved with that decision even though FIFA President Sepp Blatter said that no matter what happened in this tournament he would see each Great Britain country as their own national side.
When it came down to today’s game, team Great Britain quite honestly didn’t play as well as they are capable of. With the match at Old Trafford, Manchester United’s home ground, there were plenty of familiar faces for fans and supporters, including captain Ryan Giggs. Giggs has played his entire senior career with the Manchester United Red Devils, and the 38 year old midfielder assumed the role of captain of this squad, wearing his typical #11 kit.
Giggs helped “Team GB” as they would like to be known score their first Olympic goal since the 1960’s. On a free-kick from just outside the 18 yard box, “Giggsy” took it and played a brilliant cross to Craig Bellamy who took it off the turf and into the back of the net in the 20th minute.
For a long time, it seemed like that goal may be enough. From the moments right after the goal was scored until the final whistle, Senegal seemed to have dominated play, but it wasn’t until the 82nd minute where that had any effect. In that 82nd minute, Senegal striker Moussa Konate, who plays for the club Maccabi Tel-Aviv in Israel, chipped the GB goalkeeper Jack Butland to level the match at 1-1. That was it for the scoring, and a fantastic match to watch as a fan went into the books with each team securing a point. Senegal was lucky, as their style of play was physical (if not dirty), yet no player on their team earned a red card even though at least one or two deserved a second yellow that was not forthcoming.
Team GB’s manager, Stuart Pearce (who most recently played for Manchester City a decade ago and has been involved with that club and England’s youth teams in general since), said after the match that “if I’m being honest, a draw is the right result”. Now, I don’t totally agree with him, and he knows just as well that there were plenty of opportunities for his team to be a man up in this match, but I do applaud him for taking the high road and realizing that his team did not capitalize on the chances presented. This was an awesome match from start to finish, and I expect most of the matches in this Olympic tournament to be so competitive.
The other matches of the men’s tournament today were just as great. This is going to be a great tournament. If there are any fans who want to provide me with a short summary of today’s other matches I’ll edit this post to reflect your views (and give you credit for that) but to keep this simple the other results are as follows:
Uruguay 2 – UAE 1
Honduras 2 – Morocco 2
Mexico 0 – South Korea 0
Gabon 1 – Switzerland 1
Brazil 3 – Egypt 2
Belarus 1 – New Zealand 0
The Olympics are underway and they are here to stay for the next three weeks. Soccer is the world’s sport and I’m glad that this tournament will be so entertaining, and I hope y’all enjoy it as much as I will.