Beijing 2008 – Italy, Brazil, Argentina all win
World champions Italy, Brazil and Argentina all got their men’s Olympic football campaigns off to winning starts in Beijing.
Argentina were grateful that Barcelona allowed Lionel Messi to stay in Beijing despite winning their appeal to recall him as the diminutive winger scored the first and set up another to secure a 2-1 win over Ivory Coast.
There were shades of offside for the opener as Messi latched onto Juan Roman Riquelme’s superb through ball to slot past goalkeeper Vincent Angban.
Sekou Cisse equalised early in the second half after rising above Pablo Zabaleta to head home, but late on the Argentine quality shone through as Riquelme and Messi combined again, this time to set substitute Lautaro Acosta up with a simple tap in.
In the other Group A match, Australia and Serbia fought to a 1-1 draw, with Ruben Zadkovich‘s second-half strike for the Socceroos cancelled out 10 minutes later by Ljubisa Rajkovic.
The United States have taken the early lead in Group B courtesy of their 1-0 win over Japan.
Houston Dynamo midfielder Stuart Holden‘s goal just after the break was enough seal the victory.
Netherlands saw their campaign get off to an inauspicious start as they were stifled by a solid Nigeria to finish 0-0.
The game was marred by the late sending off of Evander Sno for the Dutch for an at best clumsy challenge that landed on an opponent’s ankle.
Brazil were made to struggle in their Group C opener by a solid Belgium side who had both Marouane Fellaini and Vincent Kompany sent off before Sao Paolo midfielder Hernanes finally grabbed the winner with just over 10 minutes remaining.
The win was enough to send the side featuring Diego and Rafinha – who both, like Messi, have been allowed to remain by their clubs – to the top of the group.
China struggled to a 1-1 draw against a spirited New Zealand side, who went down to 10 men in the first half when Steven Old‘s blatant handball earned him a second yellow card.
Despite their advantage, the hosts failed to make it count, and they were shocked when Jeremy Brockie blasted home on 52 minutes.
Defender Li Weifeng spared China’s blushes with five minutes left with an excellent glanced header from a corner.
Honduras almost made it to half-time before conceding against Italy, but a volley from Sebastian Giovinco (pictured) and a Giuseppe Rossi penalty saw them go into the break 2-0 up. Cagliari’s Robert Acquafresca added the third on 52 minutes to send the Azzurri top of Group D.
South Korea and Cameroon shared the spoils in an exciting encounter in which Chu-Young Park opened the scoring before Mandjeck Georges equalised for the Africans. Albert Baning’s last-minute sending off was the fifth of the day.
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