Olympic Preview: Group D, Day 1

looks at the first day of Olympic action involving Italy, South Korea, Cameroon, and Honduras...

Thursday 7 August 2008 (all times Beijing)
17:00 Honduras - Italy
19:45 South Korea - Cameroon

Honduras - Italy

After the disappointment of Euro 2008 comes a chance for the young Azzurrini to surpass their father figures of the Azzurri in China.

A decidely inexperienced side journeys east under Pierluigi Casiraghi, but it is one that nonetheless has with it a fair share of talent. Most of those involved are already established first-teamers; those few that are not have something to prove.

Speaking of proof, Casiraghi has outlined his faith in the youth by bringing with him just one over-ager in 30-year-old Lazio forward Tommaso Rocchi. The former Empoli hitman is out of contention at full international level, having failed to make the cut for Euro 2008, and will surely grasp a chance to redeem himself in the number 9 jersey.

Casiraghi's men are perhaps not quite under the same level of pressure as their Brazilian and Argentine counterparts as the country focuses on the senior team under Marcello Lippi, but nonetheless among Italian die-hards the message is eternal and immutable: second place is not an option.

Honduras, meanwhile, come to China for only their second Olympic football tournament. Los Catrachos last qualified in 2000, where they stunned hosts Australia with a David Suazo double in their final game but nonetheless were eliminated by just a single point in the first round.

Clearly, then, they will be looking to go one better this time around, but they know the challenge awaiting them all too well. Indeed, Italy beat them 3-1 back in Oz, with a Nesta own goal 29 minutes in proving to be a mere consolation, given that Italy had already stormed to an early three-goal lead. Coach Gilberto Yearwood will need to use all of his wile and guile to ensure that the same doesn't happen in Qinhuangdao.

Players to watch: Keep an eye out for Giuseppe Rossi of Italy - the only Azzurini player based abroad. Honduras will need the experience of Carlos Pavón.

Republic of Korea - Cameroon

Despite having enjoyed no silverware, South Korea are a mainstay of the Olympic soccer scene, having qualified for the last six tournaments, inclusive of 2008.

A team mainly comprising K-League players heads across the sea to China, with one Japanese-based midfielder and Zenit defender Kim Dong-Jin making up the final 18. International competition thus does not come naturally to most of the side, but Park Sung-Hwa nonetheless steered his men through qualifying with relative ease as they lost just a single game out of twelve. The number of draws endured on the road, though, is worrying.

That away-day record gives Cameroon a real chance of an opening day victory. Although the Indomitable Lions do not have the likes of Samuel Eto'o with them, a host of stars from Europe make the journey to China, chief among them being Arsenal's Alexandre Song.

Jules Frédéric Nyongha's side strolled through qualification, finishing four points clear of Morocco in the final stage after trouncing Zimbabwe in the preliminaries.

Whether the side have what it takes to emulate their 2000 Gold Medal in Australia - given that Carlos Kameni, Lauren, Samuel Eto'o, Pierre Womé and Geremi graced the squad then - is another matter entirely.

Players to watch: Franck Songo'o, the 21-year-old Portsmouth winger, has spent most of his career bouncing around the English lower leagues on loan. Now is the time for his breakthrough as he prepares to make his debut for the Lions after switching nationality from France. For the Koreans, watch out for Park Joo-young, a versatile 23-year-old who is one of the stars of FC Seoul both up front and on the flank.

Olympic Preview: Group D, Day 1 Reviewed by admin Ucop on 12:03 AM Rating: 5

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