Tuesday 09 August 2016, 10:26

Group stage goes down to the wire

Of the 16 teams that qualified for the 2016 Men’s Olympic Football Tournament, only two have already been eliminated as the group stage enters its final round of fixtures. Portugal and Nigeria, meanwhile, have secured their places in the next phase, leaving 12 teams battling over the remaining six places. It all adds up to what should be an exhilarating third round of matches, packed with decisive confrontations on Wednesday. The matches in each group will start at the same time, meaning that not only will teams have to go head to head to keep their chances of a medal alive, but coaches and fans will need to stay tuned to what is happening kilometres away in the other group game, keeping an eye on possible favourable combinations of results. It promises to be a nerve-wracking day.

Match of the day Denmark-Brazil, Arena Fonte Nova, 22:00 (local time) After going 180 minutes without a goal, Brazil must now try to find a way to avoid early elimination from Group A. Rogério Micale’s side have two points after draws with South Africa and Iraq. A win will be enough to guarantee qualification, whereas defeat will mean elimination.

Against the Nordic youngsters, however, the hosts will again face an organized, defensive side, posing challenges to the creativity and mobility of undeniably talented players like Neymar and young forwards such as Gabigol and Gabriel Jesus, who have yet to truly click up front. For the Danes, meanwhile, a draw will be enough to ensure qualification after their 1-0 victory over South Africa, a match which featured the only goal of the group so far. At the same time, Iraq and South Africa meet in São Paulo, with both sides still in with a chance of qualifying for the next round.

The other matches Nigeria have not only qualified from Group B but have also clinched first place in the group. They will take on Colombia in São Paulo, therefore, simply needing to complete their fixture list. The South Americans, however, need a win to advance regardless of the outcome of the Japan-Sweden clash in Salvador, familiar territory for some of their players. Japan, meanwhile, fought out a heroic draw against Colombia in the second round to stave off elimination, and even overtook the Swedes based on number of goals scored – giving them the advantage in any potential tiebreaker. Now the two teams face each other, with both hoping that Nigeria can pick up their third consecutive win.

Only Fiji are out of contention in Group C. The debutants have improved over the first two rounds though, and even led at half time against Mexico before once again crashing to a heavy defeat. Opponents Germany, currently third in the group, will have to attack from the start in Belo Horizonte in search of not only three points but also a healthy goal difference in case Korea Republic and Mexico should draw in Brasília. In that situation all three teams would finish on five points. Korea Republic lead the group at the moment thanks to their superior goal difference.

Finally, in Group D, Portugal will seek their third win in the competition against an already-eliminated Algeria side in Belo Horizonte. All eyes, then, will be on the clash between Argentina and Honduras who each have three points. Honduras, led by tournament specialist Jorge Luis Pinto, will go through with just a draw in Brasília.

Player to watch Shoya Nakajima (Japan) The fact that Japan still have a chance to qualify for the knockout stages is down to Nakajima’s equaliser in the team’s second game. While his superb vision means he is an archetypal number 10, his speed makes him a dangerous linking player who must be closely marked at all times. Although his main strength is his creativity, he showed against Colombia what he had previously demonstrated during the AFC U-23 Championship: that he also knows how to shoot.

The words "Of course it would be great to avoid the home team in the last eight, but we have to think about our next game first. Then Brazil, if we have to. There is a good chance that will happen. But we’re going to take it one game at a time. We’ve had our problems, but now the team is much more confident. We played really well against Sweden. I think everyone watching today saw how solid our defence was." Nigeria midfielder John Obi Mikel

Match schedule Group A Denmark-Brazil (Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, 22:00) South Africa-Iraq (Corinthians Arena, São Paulo, 22:00)

Group B Colombia-Nigeria (Corinthians Arena, São Paulo, 19:00) Japan-Sweden (Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, 19:00)

Group C Germany-Fiji (Mineirão, Belo Horizonte, 16:00) Korea Republic-Mexico (Mané Garrincha Stadium, Brasília, 16:00)

Group D

Algeria-Portugal (Mineirão, Belo Horizonte, 13:00)

Argentina-Honduras (Mané Garrincha Stadium, Brasília, 13:00)

(All times local)


Note: if two or more teams are equal after exhausting all the tie-breaking criteria, the final positions in the group will be determined by the drawing of lots.