Olympic Preview: Group B, Day 1

looks at the first day of Olympic action involving Japan, the Netherlands, Nigeria, and the United States...

Thursday 7 August 2008 (all times Beijing)
17:00 Japan - USA
19:45 Holland - Nigeria

Japan - United States

Japan bring with them to China considerable pedigree in the Games: they've taken part in eight football tournaments so far, donning bronze medals back in the 1960s. They now prepare to meet the United States with a largely home-based squad comprising J-League players.

The men from the Land of the Rising Sun, though, did not scale through to the tournament with ease. They finished just one point ahead of Qatar in qualifying, amassing 11 points in 6 games. Trips outside the country proved tough, with just one win - at lowly Vietnam - in the final stage.

The USA, meanwhile, only lost one match during their own qualifying adventure: this was against Honduras, the other CONCACAF team to make it through. With the emphasis on youth soccer growing all the time, it was perhaps unsurprising that the Stars and Stripes-clad men made it through, although a dreadful campaign for Mexico no doubt helped.

In any case coach Piotr Nowak proably won't feel too much pressure, although he'll have an eye on all three points here for a side that have secured just one medal in 14 attempts (and that, a silver, came all the way back in 1904 when three club sides competed - two of them from the USA!) Of the three over-agers in his squad, Brian McBride, 34, will be called upon to give all his experience.

Players to watch: Hiroki Mizumoto, newly arrived at Kyoto Sanga, is a full Japanese international and has been since the age of 21. Twice winner of the J. League Cup, this stopper is tall by Japanese standards and will be considered an aerial threat at both ends of the pitch. For the United States, Jozy Altidore of Villarreal will look to impress ahead of his first campaign in Europe. Freddy Adu, too, can never be ignored.

The Netherlands - Nigeria

The 'Dream Team IV' comes to China with their eyes firmly trained on gold. Not since 1994 have the Nigerians touched an Olympic medal, and that's far too long for a football-loving country with such an array of young talent.

Still, they head eastwards not in the best of spirits. The country's football scene is at a low ebb domestically, and new coach Samson Siasia has had a tough time assembling all of his players for the tournament. Indeed, it seems that defensive lynchpin Taye Taiwo's presence has been written off due to Marseille's obstinance.

Foppe de Haan's Netherlands, meanwhile, are entering their first games since 1952, but nonetheless must be considered among the favourites. The core of this squad won the UEFA European Under-21 Championships last summer, thrashing a strong Serbian outfit in the final, and are peppered with big names.

Often it is attitude and a lack of teamplay that costs the Oranje dear at such events, but these youngsters have already shown the desire to pull together and succeed at continental level. Steeled by the presence of such over-agers as Roy Makaay and Kew Jaliens, few would rule them out of contention altogether here.

Players to watch: Victor Nsofor Obinna, the Chievo youngster, dons the number nine jersey for Nigeria and will seek to build on his reputation. For the Dutch there are no shortage of candidates, but perhaps Royston Drenthe of Real Madrid can impress despite barely playing klast season, or maybe Dirk Marcellis of PSV can well and truly enjoy a breakthrough year.

Olympic Preview: Group B, Day 1 Reviewed by admin Ucop on 11:31 PM Rating: 5

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