Thursday 11 August 2016, 10:29

Canada stand out as favourites march on

Only one team emerged from the group stages of the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016 with an unblemished record – Canada.

Defending champions USA and hosts Brazil entered the race as big favourites and recorded two wins apiece before disappointing in their final duels, while two-time world champions Germany travelled to South America with high hopes but have yet to fully convince.

Meanwhile Zimbabwe and Colombia made their Olympic debuts, with the African team making their very first appearance at any major international tournament.

Looking back at Group E Having come within touching distance of a gold medal on two previous occasions, taking home silver in both 2004 and 2008, Brazil are now aiming to climb to the top step of the podium on home soil. Marta and her team-mates sent fans into raptures with two suitably dominant opening performances – a 3-0 win over China PR and a 5-1 victory over Sweden – that sent a clear statement of intent to their rivals. With their place in the quarter-finals confirmed, A Verdeamarela took a more relaxed approach to their final group game against South Africa, ultimately drawing 0-0.

Despite falling short of their own expectations, Sweden progressed to the last eight as one of the best third-placed teams. Pia Sundhage’s side ran into difficulties as they narrowly defeated South Africa 1-0 in their first match before being subjected to a lesson in footballing excellence by Brazil. Although the Scandinavians kept another clean sheet in their goalless draw with China PR, they looked alarmingly weak in attack, and must now raise their game significantly in their quarter-final against USA if they are to avoid exiting the tournament.

The South Africans will return home with a sense of achievement after holding the hosts to a goalless stalemate in their final game. Vera Pauw’s team kept a tight formation, defended smartly and even posed an attacking threat on numerous occasions.

Looking back at Group F After missing out on London 2012, Germany travelled to Rio determined to clinch the one thing still missing from their extensive trophy cabinet – an Olympic gold medal. Nevertheless, the air in the German camp is one of disillusionment after their group stage haul of just four points – gained via a 6-1 thrashing of Zimbabwe and a 2-2 draw with Australia – means they only progress to the next round as second-placed finishers in Group F thanks to their superior goal difference over the Matildas.

Canada, on the other hand, delivered consistently formidable performances. Youngster Janine Beckie particularly sparkled while playing alongside Christine Sinclair, scoring the fastest goal in Olympic history in her team’s 2-0 defeat of Australia before netting a brace against Zimbabwe. The Big Red rounded off their impressive group stage campaign by improving their record against Germany. Despite failing to post a win in 12 previous meetings with the two-time world champions, the North Americans triumphed 2-1 to cement their place among the tournament favourites.

Looking back at Group G While world champions and defending Olympic gold medallists USA unsurprisingly ended the opening stage of the tournament as group winners, they were unable to collect all nine points on offer. The favourites recorded a 2-2 draw with bottom-placed Colombia in their third game to stay at the top of the group, having narrowly won their opening two matches.

France suffered a defeat at the hands of the Stars and Stripes just as they did in their first Olympic appearance in 2012, losing 1-0 yet beating Colombia and New Zealand 3-0 and 4-0 respectively. Despite their dominant performance against the Oceanian side, Les Bleues were unable to overhaul USA and progressed to the last eight as the second-placed team in Group G.

New Zealand narrowly missed out on a place in the knockout stages in their third successive appearance at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament after Beijing 2008 and London 2012. The Football Ferns beat Colombia 1-0 to end their group campaign on three points, just a point short of the two best third-placed teams Sweden and Australia.