By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The long-anticipated 2016 Rio Olympics kicked off on Wednesday, August 3rd, two days ahead of the August 5th opening ceremony, with the start of the women’s Olympic football (soccer) competition. Host country Brazil, and reigning World Cup and Olympic champions, USA, both opened their 2016 Olympic campaigns with commanding victories over China and New Zealand respectively.
For a short time on Wednesday, all talk of Zika, political turmoil, economic recession and inadequate Olympic preparations were forgotten as host team Brazil finally gave the hometown fans at Olympic Stadium in Rio’s Zona Norte (North Zone) reason to celebrate as the team dominated China for a 3×0 victory.
From the outset, Brazil controlled ball possession, but despite numerous chances, the host team was unable to break the scoreless deadlock until the 36th minute of the first half when a soft header from defender Monica somehow found its way past six mesmerized Chinese defenders and into the net.
Andressa Alves made it 2×0 for Brazil in the 59th minute, and star striker Cristiane added the finishing touch with a goal in the final minute of regulation.
Brazil and China are in Group E with Sweden and South Africa, who met earlier in the day in the first match of the 2016 Games, with Sweden defeating South Africa 1×0. Brazil’s next match is on Saturday, August 6th against Sweden.
Entering the 2016 Rio Olympics having lost only one game all year, the U.S. women’s national team are heavily favored to win their fifth overall and third consecutive Olympic gold medal. And in Wednesday’s opener against New Zealand at Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, the powerhouse team lived up to the hype cruising to a 2×0 victory thanks to goals from FIFA World Player of the Year and team captain Carli Lloyd and star forward Alex Morgan.
Throughout the game, fans showered American goalkeeper Hope Solo with boos and chants of Zika each time she cleared the ball. The star goalkeeper had been criticized earlier in the week for an image she posted on Twitter wearing a beekeeper’s mask and holding a large bottle of insect repellent in an apparent reference to the Zika virus that gripped Brazil earlier in the year.
The U.S. team, in Group G, will next face what many believe is their biggest group challenge, France, on Saturday, where another U.S. win would clinch a spot in the quarterfinals. In the final opening day game, France trounced Columbia 4×0, setting up Saturday’s matchup between the two favorites.
In earlier Group F action, fans at Corinthians Arena, in Sao Paulo, witnessed Olympic history as Canada’s Janine Beckie scored the fastest goal ever in the women’s Olympic football tournament, putting the ball in the net after just twenty seconds into the team’s match against Australia.
Despite playing the final 71 minutes short-handed after losing player Shelina Zadorsky to a red card when she pulled down an Australian attacker by the shoulder, Canada, the 2012 London bronze medalists, held on for the 2×0 win and prepares for its next opponent, Zimbabwe on Saturday.
Zimbabwe’s first match ever in the women’s Olympic soccer tournament was one to forget on Wednesday, as Germany trounced the Olympic newcomers 6×1.
Now the men are set to take the stage as the 2016 Rio Olympics men’s soccer competition starts with eight games on Thursday, including host team Brazil, led by superstar Neymar, taking on South Africa in Brasilia.