Joys and disappointments on the first day of an unprecedented silent Olympic soccer tournament

Mexico’s thrashing of France revives golden dream of London 2012

(ATR) Not even when the Munich 1972 Olympic Games were played without spectators did the terrorist act cloud the Olympic Games. But this terrible virus, this invisible enemy, infects and kills.

For the first time in Olympic history there are no people in the stands, nor in soccer, so in this case, the Japanese hosts will not be able to count on the so-called “player number 12”.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Soccer Football - Men - Group A - Mexico v France - Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - July 22, 2021. Mexico players line up for the national anthems before the match REUTERS/Edgar Su
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Soccer Football - Men - Group A - Mexico v France - Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - July 22, 2021. Mexico players line up for the national anthems before the match REUTERS/Edgar Su

Nor, again for the first time, will it be heard or read anywhere in the next few hours that the host delegation of the Olympic Games received the loudest applause at the close of the opening parade.

Perhaps the loudspeakers of the stadium will make the imagination fly together with the clapping of the meager number of guests.

It is the sacrifice to save the “games of hope”.

Women and men have already shown their legs on a field that produced the first surprises of a football tournament that follows the high bar set by the Euro Cup and the Copa America, and at this very moment shares the spotlight with the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

The Mexicans are smiling from side to side. El Tri has beaten France 4-1 and the score has made Mexico dream of winning the gold medal like at London 2012.

It is always a balm to start such an important competition with a victory.

The Mexican press has pulled out statistics from the trunk of memories to place this slate as the second best start of the national team in a major event. The main victory with this debut profile was in the 1999 Confederations Cup with a 5-1 victory over Saudi Arabia, the beginning of a path to the tournament crown.

Mexico has in the roster an inspirational figure, its World Cup goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, in a tournament with a shortage of renowned players. The gallery is headed by the Brazilian star Dani Alves who at the last minute replaced Neymar after the veto of his club, PSG.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Soccer Football - Men - Group D - Brazil v Germany - International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama, Japan - July 22, 2021. Richarlison of Brazil scores their third goal to complete his hat-trick REUTERS/Phil Noble
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Soccer Football - Men - Group D - Brazil v Germany - International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama, Japan - July 22, 2021. Richarlison of Brazil scores their third goal to complete his hat-trick REUTERS/Phil Noble

Brazil made Germany dance the samba. The great character of the Brazilian victory, 4-2, was the striker Richarlison, author of three goals.

The other side of the coin in the U-23 men’s tournament (actually U-24 because the age requirement was relaxed due to the one-year postponement) was Argentina.

The Albiceleste lost 2-0 to Australia and it is surprising because they had shown a good performance in their preparation matches, with goalkeeper Jeremías Ledesma (Cadiz, Spain), Adolfo Gaich (Benvento, Italy), Ezequiel Barco (Atlanta United, USA) and Alexis MacAllister (Brighton, England) among their main players.

Argentina holds two Olympic titles. In 2008 Lionel Messi led them to the top of the podium with Angel Di María, Juan Román Riquelme, Javier Mascherano, Sergio Agüero, Ever Banega, and Sergio Romero.

The goal that Di María scored last week in the Copa América against Brazil at the Maracaná stadium looked like a carbon copy of the one that “Fideo” himself scored against Nigeria in Beijing.

The first Olympic title was achieved in Athens 2004 with a 1-0 win over Paraguay in the final with a goal by Carlos Tevez, whose teammates included Roberto Fabian Ayala, Javier Mascherano, Andres D’Alessandro and Javier Saviola.

Despite the setback, hopes remain, but they could also depend on the performances of the others, in a group that includes Egypt and Spain, who drew 0-0 on Thursday.

In Spain, sports commentators did not tire of recalling the “first match syndrome” and gave the Iberian team as favorites to win the gold medal because they have five players from the Spanish semi-finalists at the European Championship, led by the new star, Pedri.

The Japanese did not have their fans in the stands, but nevertheless took three points in the “bubble” at the expense of South Africa 1-0.

Japan is looking to equal or better its best-ever result: a bronze medal at the 1968 Mexico City Games. The illusion was kept alive in the 71st minute by their leader, 20-year-old striker Takefusa Kubo, who has signed with Real Madrid. Japan and Mexico meet on Sunday.

The match was able to take place after enough South African players passed the COVID-19 protocols.

A total of 18 South African players had been identified as close contacts after two of their teammates and a video analyst tested positive for the virus on Sunday, the first confirmed cases among athletes in the Olympic Village.

FIFA requires at least 13 players from each side to register for a match to start.

So went the opening of the men’s tournament as the previous day’s event hung in the air: women’s world champions USA losing 3-0 to Sweden. It was their first setback since losing a friendly 3-1 to France on January 19, 2019.

Results of the first day of the men’s tournament: Group A: Mexico 4- 1 France; Japan 1-0 South Africa. Pool B: New Zealand 1-0 South Korea; Honduras 0-1 Romania. Group C: Egypt 0-0 Spain; Argentina 0-2 Australia. Group D: Ivory Coast 2- 1 Saudi Arabia. Brazil 4- Germany 2.