Mixed Fortunes As Hunt Begins
George Mandjeck came off the bench to score a late goal and secure a 1-1 draw against South Korea in Cameroon’s opening game of the Beijing Olympics. Both teams created numerous scoring opportunites in a physical game on a hot and humid night in Qinhuangdao.
South Korea drew first blood when they went ahead in the 68th minute after Park Chu-young put a free kick past the goalkeeper Amour Tignyemb. Nine minutes from time it was the turn of the Lions as Franck Songo’o, son of former Indomitable Lions goalkeeper Jacques Songo’o, found Gustav Bebbe in the box. Bebbe laid the ball to Mandjeck who drilled it sweetly past the South Korean goalkeeper.
One sour spot for the Cameroonians was the sending off of defender Albert Baning in the dying moments of the game for a late tackle on Lee Keun-Ho. Afterwards, Cameroon coach Martin Ndtoungou readily admitted that South Korea had been a handful for his side and noted that the conditions had a detrimental effect on his players. “I think South Korea is a very good team,” Ndtoungou said. “Their defense played very well, and gave us big problems. [But] the humidity took a toll on our players,” he said, adding that substitutes are key on such nights. “The changes allowed us to take the initiative and attack in a way we weren’t able to in the first half.” South Korean fans made up a vast majority of the crowd of almost 22,000, and they cheered wildly, banging on inflatable cheer sticks and blowing whistles with each Korean foray into the Cameroon penalty area.
Nigeria held gold-medal favorites, the Netherlands, to a 0-0 draw in their Olympic opener on Wednesday. ‘Dream Team IV’ used three strikers and created several quality chances in the Group B tussle, but were unable to convert them into goals. The Oranje took the early initiative with the pace of their strikers causing several problems for the 1996 gold medallists.
However, the Nigerians settled into a rhythm halfway through the first half as Victor Obinna launched assault after assault on Dutch goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer’s goal. Victor Obinna put a header just wide in the 31st minute, touched a teasing cross just past the near post in the 33rd, and unleashed a powerful right-footed drive from the top of the penalty area in the 44th minute, forcing Dutch keeper Kenneth Vermeer to dive left in order to push the ball around the post. Both sides traded chances in the second half as well. “I really believe we could have won,” Obinna said after the game. “We created more chances than the Dutch team.”
Chinedu Ogbuke and Isaac Promise almost snatched victory for the Eagles with six minutes to go, but once again, Vermeer again came to his team’s rescue with two fine saves. The Netherlands finished the match with 10 men after Evander Sno was ejected in the 91st minute for a foul on Emmanuel Ekpo, who had entered the match only two minutes earlier. “I was glad we didn’t lose. It doesn’t feel like a win. A win is a win. This was a draw,” Nigeria coach Samson Siasia said afterwards. “But I think it was a good start,” he added.Nigeria had Oladapo Olufemi on the bench, the replacement for Marseille defender Taye Taiwo, who was never released by his French club and had to be dropped earlier this week. “We can’t worry about what we don’t have,” Siasia said. “He’s not here. The defense was OK.”
Nigeria will now take on Japan on 10 August while the Netherlands meet USA. Africa’s final representative, Côte d’Ivoire, could not match the opening day results of their counterparts. Les Elephants fell 2-1 to a Lionel Messi inspired Argentina, and have it all to do in their next two games.
Messi, the subject of protracted tug-of-war between the Argentine FA and his parent club FC Barcelona, showed once again why he so valued. The fast and skillful Ivorians showed they weren’t just here to be part of the Lionel Messi show, however, and repeatedly got round the back of the Argentina defense. Captain Gervinho used his pace to get past Pablo Zabaleta and, when such a run set up a chance for Kalou, he got the ball back and tapped it into the net while on the goal line, only to be flagged for offside.
Argentina went ahead just before halftime when Juan Roman Riquelme’s perfectly timed ball sliced through the Ivorian defense and Messi, already ahead of a defender, ran clear to put the ball past goalkeeper Vincent Angban. Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou thought he had won a penalty in the final minute of the first half when he went down under a challenge from Zabaleta, but all German referee Wolfgang Stark gave him was a stern warning and a yellow card for diving. Côte d’Ivoire, which had two more penalty appeals turned down in the second half, leveled in the 52nd minute.
Gervinho, a thorn in the Argentine defense all evening, went on another menacing run down the right and Mamadou Babayoko launched a high cross to Sekou Cisse, who jumped higher than Zabaleta and headed the ball powerfully home. Aguero put the ball into the Ivorians’ net in the 65th after another slick Argentina move involving Riquelme and Messi, but he was clearly offside. The winner came five minutes from the end when Riquelme again released Messi down the left. The Barcelona star’s shot was parried by Angban, but Acosta was unmarked and ideally placed to tap into an empty net.