Olympic Men’s Football Preview – Group C
The ex-Eastern Bloc country make their Olympic football début in London and secured their qualification after their under-21 team finished third in last year’s European Championships. As like most teams, the squad have been playing friendly matches since September 2011 but are currently on a poor run of form, losing three of their last four games.
All but one of the squad play in Belarus, and the outsider is one of the three overage players allowed. Sergei Kornilenko of Russian team Krylia Sovetov Samara is expected to be the team’s star man, and is currently the fourth highest goalscorer in Belarusian national team history with 12 goals in 52 appearances. With that record, opposing defences will do well to keep their eye on him during matches. If you recognise his name, it may be because he played six games on loan for Blackpool in their Premier League season of 2010/11.
With the squad playing against each other on a weekly basis as well as playing together on a semi-regular basis, it remains to be seen if familiarity will breed contempt or if the squad can gel together and get out of the group stages.
The Samba superstars have been playing as a squad for almost a year in preparation for the tournament in London. Incredibly, despite the success Brazil have had over the years, they’ve never won this tournament.
They’re favourites to win the gold medal with Spain, and when you look at the squad it’s easy to see why. The overage players were named as Hulk, Thiago Silva and Marcelo, all internationally recognised top-class players, but when you see the likes of Neymar,Alexandre Pato,Sandro and Ganso still under the age of 23 and in the squad… well, enough said!
Any other teams watching the game against Team GB last week saw an outfit who barely got out of first gear yet comfortably won the game 2-0, and you got the feeling Brazil could have scored more.
With a young squad that have experience of playing both with each other as a team, and first team football with the likes of AC Milan, Porto and Man Utd, expect to see Brazil go far in the tournament. I think they’ll pop their Olympic cherry and return home with the gold medals around their collective necks.
The Egyptians got to the Olympics by finishing third in the inaugural African Under-23 Championships held in Morocco in December 2011 and will make their 13th appearance in the tournament. After recent events in Egyptian football, the team will be hoping to put a smile back on the faces of Egyptian football fans.
Egypt have played a staggering 15 times since December and have won six times, including a famous 2-1 victory over the senior Egyptian national side. Apart from the three overage players, only two of the named 18 man squad didn’t take part in the under-23 African championships. Like most teams, this is a squad that know each other inside out, and I expect them to battle Belarus for the runners-up spot in this group.
Only two members of the squad play outside Egyptian domestic football. Ahmed Hegazy is one of African football’s bright hopes and secured a move to Fiorentina after showing some great form in two youth World Cups, while Mohamed Salah has just moved to FC Basel and scored on his debut for them in a friendly match.
A lot of the squad play for giants Al-Ahly, including the three overage players Emad Moteab, Ahmed Fathi and legend Mohamed Aboutrika.
Aboutrika will captain the team in London, and the 33 year old has done it all in African football, including winning the CAF African Footballer of the Year award in 2006 and winning the African Cup of Nations twice. His experience will be vital.
The Oly-Whites made it to London after winning the OFC Under-23 Championships in March, going undefeated and results included an impressive 10-0 win against Tonga.
While most of the squad are unknowns in the UK, the manager Neil Emblen made his name as an attacking midfielder at Wolves towards the turn of the century. He moved to New Zealand in 2005 to play for the now-defunct New Zealand Knights, and is currently sharing the Oly-Whites duties along with player-manager duties at New Zealand ASB Premiership team Waitakere United.
The overage players are Ryan Nelsen, who has just moved to QPR,Michael McGlinchey, ex-Scottish youth starlet and Shane Smeltz, the all-time A-League record goalscorer. These three players have World Cup experience and are top players, and I would expect their attacks to focus around these three. With the likes of West Brom’s Chris Wood and Kosta Barbarouses (currently on loan at Panathinaikos from Russians Alania Vladikavkaz), there is some quality in the team, but I expect them to finish rock bottom of Group C.