Tokyo — SA’s Olympic men’s football campaign got off to a dreadful start when they were beaten 1-0 by hosts Japan.
A late strike from midfielder Takefusa Kubo sank the South Africans, who were dealing with Covid-19 cases on the eve of the Group A match. Their build-up was hit by tournaments being cancelled. They lost three and drew one of the four warm-ups against Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the past year.
Several overseas-based players, including Percy Tau and Gift Links, were not released by their clubs. Then five players — Lyle Foster‚ Fagrie Lakay‚ Abbubaker Mobara‚ Sipho Mbule and Keletso Makgalwa — were withdrawn for various medical reasons.
Upon arrival in Tokyo, SA had two players test positive for Covid-19 and the squad had to isolate for two days, only resuming training on Monday. In all they travelled for seven days without training from their camp in Mpumalanga.
Frosler was rushed straight into the starting XI despite arriving late, having played in Kaizer Chiefs’ Caf Champions League final defeat to Al Ahly in Morocco on Saturday night.
At the same time France were thrashed 4-1 by Mexico while Argentina suffered a shock 2-0 loss to Australia as the group stage kicked off on Thursday.
Brazil striker Richarlison scored the first hat-trick of the men’s tournament as the defending champions held off a late rally from Germany in a 4-2 win at Yokohama’s International Stadium.
It was a day to forget for Sylvain Ripoll’s France who collapsed in the second half when Alexis Vega, Sebastian Cordova, Uriel Antuna and Erick Aguirre netted for Mexico at the Tokyo Stadium.
France, chasing a first Olympic medal since winning gold in 1984, now face a daunting task to qualify from Group A ahead of games against SA and hosts Japan.
“The first thing we now have to do is digest this disappointment,” Ripoll said. “We only have two days. There’s no time to waste.”
In their first Olympic campaign since Beijing 2008, Australia took a surprise lead against twice gold medallists Argentina inside 14 minutes when winger Lachlan Wales scored from close range.
Argentina’s problems were compounded late in the first half when left back Francisco Ortega was sent off after two quickfire yellow cards. The South American side never quite recovered from the setback, as substitute Marco Tilio added a second for the Olyroos in the 80th minute to seal a memorable win.
Spain, the last European men’s team to claim gold in 1992, also stuttered in their opening match as they dominated possession but created few opportunities in a goalless stalemate with Egypt in Sapporo.
Elsewhere in Group D, Franck Kessie scored the winner to earn Ivory Coast a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia in a heated game in Yokohama, the sides committing 27 fouls between them. The African nation were reduced to 10 men when substitute Aboubacar Doumbia was shown a straight red for his involvement in a scuffle.
In Group B, Burnley striker Chris Wood fired a late goal to help New Zealand beat South Korea 1-0 in Kashima — earning the Kiwis their first win in Olympic men’s soccer.
Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?
Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.
Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.