Tokyo 2020 July 23-Aug 8

Brazil off to rousing start

Lacklustre Spain held goal-less by Egypt but Aussies savour famous win over Argentina

Brazil's Richarlison (left) challenging for the ball with Eduard Loewen of Germany during their Olympic match yesterday. The Brazilians won 4-2.
Brazil's Richarlison (left) challenging for the ball with Eduard Loewen of Germany during their Olympic match yesterday. The Brazilians won 4-2.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO • Brazil do not have the same star-studded team as they had five years ago, when the Selecao, led by captain Neymar alongside the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Marquinhos, Felipe Anderson and Rafinha, powered their way to the Olympic men's football gold medal.

But together with Spain, the defending champions still have the best line-up of any team in the competition at the Tokyo Olympics, with Richarlison leading the line and a grizzled backline marshalled by veteran captain Dani Alves and Diego Carlos.

Everton forward Richarlison struck a stunning hat-trick inside 30 minutes as Brazil got their title defence under way, beating Germany 4-2 in their opening Group D game at the International Stadium in Yokohama yesterday.

Since 1992, football at the Games has primarily been an Under-23 tournament with just three overaged players allowed per team.

Germany have brought along a squad comprising lesser lights in the Bundesliga, including their experienced trio of Maximilian Arnold, Max Kruse and Nadiem Amiri.

With their opponents shorn of any household names, Brazil were in control from the start and should have had the outcome decided by the interval given the amount of chances they created.

Richarlison drove home at the second attempt in the seventh minute and headed Brazil into a 2-0 lead before completing his hat-trick with a fine strike in the 30th minute.

Despite playing at the recently concluded Copa America, including the final, he showed no signs of fatigue, revelling in the space afforded to him.

Germany managed to salvage some pride, striking twice in the second half, despite going down to 10 men in the 63rd minute.

Amiri pulled one back for Germany after the break and although Arnold was dismissed in the 63rd minute, a Ragnar Ache header made it a more nervy ending than expected.

But with Stefan Kuntz's men pushing forward for the equaliser, Andre Jardine's players caught them on the break in stoppage time, as Paulinho finished off a counter-attack with a fine shot into the top corner.

In Group C, Spain, the last European men's team to claim gold in 1992, also stuttered as they dominated possession but created few opportunities in a goal-less stalemate with Egypt in Sapporo.

Along with Pedri, Euro 2020's young player of the tournament, La Roja had five other players who featured in the senior team's run to the semi-finals this month, but it appeared like their exertions had caught up with them in what was a laboured display.

They came closest to scoring when Dani Ceballos hit the post before the Real Madrid midfielder and Barcelona full-back Oscar Mingueza had to be taken off early.

"We are going to have to wait to see how both players evolve and how their injuries evolve," coach Luis de la Fuente said. "It doesn't look good, if truth be told."

In the same group, Australia took a surprise lead against two-time gold medallists Argentina inside 14 minutes via Lachlan Wales in their first Olympic campaign since the Beijing 2008 Games.

Francisco Ortega was then sent off for the South Americans after two quick-fire yellow cards and substitute Marco Tilio added a second for the Olyroos in the 80th minute to seal a memorable win.

Elsewhere, hosts Japan made a winning start, courtesy of a late strike from Real Madrid forward Takefusa Kubo in a 1-0 victory over South Africa, who were shorthanded after the squad were hit by Covid-19 in the lead-up to the game.

It was a day to forget for France who collapsed in the second half when Alexis Vega, Sebastian Cordova, Uriel Antuna and Erick Aguirre netted for Mexico for a 4-1 victory at the Tokyo Stadium.

Sylvain Ripoll's men, chasing a first Olympic medal since winning gold in 1984, now face a daunting task to qualify from Group A ahead of games against South Africa and Japan.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2021, with the headline 'Brazil off to rousing start'. Subscribe