By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A day after the women’s football (soccer) clubs kicked off the 2016 Rio Olympics, the football competition continued on Thursday, August 4th, with the men taking the pitch to begin their quest for Olympic gold. For host team Brazil, seeking the one championship that has always eluded them, it was a disappointing start.
Despite the home-team fans, a trio of celebrated players, and a man advantage for most of the second half, the Brazil could still do no better than a scoreless draw against South Africa.
In a packed Mane Garrincha Stadium in capital city Brasilia, Seleção controlled most of the match, dominating ball possession and recording nineteen shots on goal compared to only four from South Africa.
Yet, while Brazil seemed on the edge of breaking the game open at several junctures, Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune kept the home team at bay, including twice blocking team captain and international superstar Neymar on long-range shots late in the first half.
At the 59th minute, it appeared that South Africa’s strong first half effort would be wasted when Mothobi Mvala picked up his second yellow card forcing South Africa to play the rest of the game a man down.
The one-man advantage led to Brazil’s best chance to score only ten minutes later, at the 69-minute mark, but new Manchester City signing Gabriel Jesus could not capitalize. Gabriel, standing only two yards from goal, missed a relatively easy tip-in, bouncing the ball off the right goal post.
The missed opportunity took the steam out of the Seleção’s attack, while South Africa’s defense clamped down, resulting in the scoreless draw. Though it was only the host team’s first match of the Olympics, the fans in attendance made sure to voice their frustration, booing the team as it left the field.
It was the second scoreless draw of the day in the same stadium, as earlier, Iraq and Denmark kicked the tournament off with a 0x0 draw. With the result, Brazil, South Africa, Iraq and Denmark are all tied in the Group A standings. Brazil returns to the pitch at Mane Garrincha Stadium on Sunday, August 7th, against Iraq.
In other group action, Sweden and Colombia fought to a 2×2 draw in the men’s football Group B opener at the Amazonia Arena in Manaus.
In the later Group B match, Nigerian midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo’s double brace (four goals) singlehandedly gave Nigeria the 5×4 victory over Japan in an enthralling back-and-forth battle.
Nigeria’s hard-fought win came in spite of flight issues that resulted in the team arriving in Manaus only six hours before the game’s kick-off.
An unexpected turn of events in Thursday’s Group C match between Germany and Mexico at Fonte Nova Arena in Salvador saw reserve Serge Gnabry enter the game for injured captain Leon Goretzka and completely turn the game around, scoring a goal and helping the Germans escape with a 2×2 draw despite an overall sub-par performance.
In the second Group C match, although they didn’t score their first goal until the 32nd minute, South Korea would score seven more times, crushing Fiji 8×0.
In Group D action on Thursday, despite playing without superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal defeated Argentina 2×0 at the Olympic Stadium in Rio. Earlier at the Olympic Stadium the other two Group D teams faced off with Honduras beating Algeria 3×2.
With the first two days of the Olympic football tournament complete, all eyes now turn to Maracanã Stadium for Friday’s (August 5th) opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games scheduled to begin at 8PM.