Olympic Preview: Group C, Day 1

Ewan Macdonald looks at the first day of Olympic action involving Brazil, Belgium, China PR and New Zealand...

Thursday 7 August 2008 (all times Beijing)
17:00 Brazil - Belgium
19:45 China PR - New Zealand

Brazil - Belgium

Brazil, the dominant force in world football for most of the game's history, have only thrice managed an Olympic medal - and not a single one a gold, either. That's something that embattled coach Dunga must remedy, or at least come close to doing, if he's to save his job.

At least that's the world on the street in Brazil, where discontent is growing with the man who captained the South Americans to World Cup glory in 1994. Recent form has been underwhelming at full level, and it's up to the young Olympic team to make amends.

Thankfully for Dunga he has plenty of talent at his disposal. Even without Robinho, who was withheld by Real Madrid, the stars are shining bright: Rafinha and Breno represent the Bundesliga at the back, Anderson, Lucas, Diego and Thiago Neves will offer flair in midfield, while Jô and Alexandre Pato cut a mean forward line.

Then there's Ronaldinho. Everyone's favourite party animal endured what were by his own admission six hellish months in Barcelona before securing his passage to Milan, and it's now up to him to prove that he can rejuvenate a flagging career and regain his title as the world's best.

Belgium may be mere cannon-fodder in the eyes of some, but this young side is eager to build on its 2007 successes and, moreover, return some pride to a footballing country that once towered among Europe's elite.

Let's not forget that as recently as 2002 they were regular contenders in the World Cup knock-out stages, while frequently they sent clubs to the very end of European competition. Their Olympic record comprises five appearances and two medals. One, a gold, came in 1920, when the final was abandoned due to a protest from the Czechslovakia side, who walked off the pitch when one of their men was sent off.

It may be unkind, but some may suggest that Belgium will be hoping for a similar fate this time around!

Players to watch: 18-year-old AC Milan prodigy Alexandre Pato is already a competitor for the senior Seleção, for whom he scored on his debut: a tournament goalscoring debut is the next logical step. Vincent Kompany of Hamburger SV will fly the defensive flag for Belgium, although Tom De Mul will also be eager to impress after a difficult season at Sevilla.

China PR - New Zealand

Two of the tournament's unsung sides go head to head next, but this will be no mere sideshow. China, as hosts, have the eyes of the world upon them, and although they are not renowned for their footballing ability they will be keen to set a few doubters straight.

The Peoples' Republic have only qualified on three prior occasions, most recently in 1988 when they finished dead last in a group containing Sweden, West Germany and Tunisia. They failed to score a single goal, drawing only with the North Africans to avoid a complete whitewash.

New Zealand, meanwhile, are making their debut appearance at the Games. The global minnows, in fact, have only ventured beyond Oceanic competition once as they shocked the world by qualifying for the World Cup of 1982. In Spain they were to lose all three of their matches, avoiding the 'wooden spoon' only by virtue of El Salvador's poor showing.

With a squad mainly comprising domestic players from the recently-inaugurated New Zealand Football Championship, hopes are not tremendously high, but such a lack of pressure surely provides conditions for a surprise...

Players to watch: Both sides are short on stars, but not on talent. Dong Fangzhou of Manchester United is the most recognisable name in the Chinese squad, but captain Zheng Zhi of Charlton is also well-known in the West. As far as domestic players go, Zhou Haibin of Shandong Luneng is experienced at full international level and offers a goalscoring touch from midfield. New Zealand's goalscoring hopes lie with over-ager Chris Killen, despite his barely playing for Celtic last season, while Ryan Nelsen at the back is the only defender over the age of 22.

Olympic Preview: Group C, Day 1 Reviewed by admin Ucop on 11:52 PM Rating: 5

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