Olympic Preview: Group A, Day 1

looks at the first day of Olympic action involving Argentina, Cote d'Ivoire, Australia, and Serbia...

Thursday 7 August 2008 (all times Beijing)
17:00 Australia - Serbia
19:45 Cote d'Ivoire - Argentina

Australia - Serbia

Match 1 in Group A carries plenty of interest in Australia for fans of both sides due to the Serbian ex-pat population Down Under, but the Soccerroos will have healthy support of their own.

Oz come to China having taken part in the last six Games, but at each attempt they have yet to finish among the medals. This time around, though, they will be quietly confident of progressing to the quarter-finals at least, although a win over Serbia seems to be a must to complete that goal.

The White Eagles, for their part, have only once taken part in the Games: their previous appearance was during their time as Serbia & Montenegro, during which they lost all three games in 2004. That was a miserable time for the country's footballing hopes and they must improve here.

Players to watch: Australia's Mark Milligan scored some vital goals during qualification despite spending most of the pre-tournament at the back. Interestingly he is currently a free agent: with no shortage of scouts in China he'll be out to impress. Serbia, minus Branislav Ivanovic, still have a formidable back-line: expect big things of Aleksandr Kolarov of Lazio.

Cote d'Ivoire - Argentina

Having been edged out by the albiceleste at the World Cup in Germany, the Ivory Coast are out for revenge with a young side eager to atone for their disappointing end to the Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana earlier in the year.

Not a single player over the age of 23 has joined up with the Elephants, and as such there is a shortage of big names: Salomon Kalou and Kafoumba Coulibaly are perhaps the only readily recognisable names for most global observers as Didier Drogba, Arouna Koné and company remain in Europe. Nonetheless the Ivorians merit their reputation for bringing through young talent and cannot be taken lightly.

Argentina, meanwhile, comprise a squad that reads like a "who's who" of global talent. As if having Lionel Messi up front was not enough, Fernando Gago, José Ernesto Sosa, Éver Banega, Ezequiel Garay, Oscar Ustari, Sergio Agüero, and Ezequiel Lavezzi all line up - and that's before we get to the over-agers! Riquelme and Mascherano are the midfield duo in question, while Nicolás Pareja of Anderlecht adds experience at the back.

With this sort of pedigree it's no wonder that Argentina are the favourites both for this game and the gold medal. But with such power comes responsibility: Sergio Batista's men simply cannot afford to get off to a poor start. Oh - did I mention they're the reigning champions?

Players to watch: Lionel Messi is here against the wishes of his club and the Court of Arbitration for Sport and how he deals with the mental turmoil of what has been a difficult summer could prove decisive. He'll be up against Ivorian 'keeper Vincent de Paul Angban of local side ASEC Mimosas. Vincent is likely to be a busy man.

Olympic Preview: Group A, Day 1 Reviewed by admin Ucop on 11:07 PM Rating: 5

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