Jul 12, 2012; London, UNITED KINGDOM; Aerial view of Wembley Stadium. After today, just eight teams will be left in the race to get here for the men's soccer gold medal game. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE
Before I get into the medal round possibilities for the 2012 Olympic Men's Soccer Tournament, let's review the women's bracket, and my picks.
The first set of games, in Group F, provided the surprise of the tournament so far, as World Cup champions Japan (5 points) played a scoreless draw against South Africa (1 point, eliminated). That result opened the door for Sweden (5 points) and Canada (4 points), though Tre Kronor ended up on top, thanks to goal difference. The Swedes led the Canadians 2-0, but two goals from Melissa Tancredi earned the Maple Leaf squad a crucial point.
The U.S. (9 points) won Group G with a 1-0 victory over North Korea (3 points), thanks to Abby Wambach's third goal of the tournament so far. France (6 points) earned position G2 with a 1-0 win over Colombia (0 points). North Korea's loss, combined with Canada draw and New Zealand's win, eliminated them, meaning their senior women's national team's next chance to appear on the world stage is Rio 2016, thanks to a 2015 World Cup ban imposed by FIFA.
Stephanie Houghton's 2nd minute goal and a huge Wembley crowd pushed host Great Britain (9 points) to a 1-0 win over Brazil (6 points) and a slightly unexpected position at the top of Group E. New Zealand (3 points) took out Cameroon (0 points), 3-1, to finish third and qualify for the quarterfinals. The victory was the first for the Football Ferns at a World Cup or Olympics.
The upheaval in groups E and F mean I only correctly seeded four of the eight quarterfinalists, though I did manage to select them all.
Old Trafford Semifinal
Brazil Great Britain vs. (F3) Canada in Coventry
(G1) USA vs. (E3) New Zealand in Newcastle
Japan Sweden vs. (G2) France in Glasgow
Great Britain Brazil vs. (F2) Sweden Japan in Cardiff
After the jump, I'll look at the four groups in the men's field, which sees two teams already eliminated.
Group C: 9:30 a.m. ET Starts
Current Standings: 1. Brazil (qualified), 2. Belarus, 3. Egypt, 4. New Zealand
Brazil (6 points) is still alive in its quest for its first-ever Olympic soccer gold, as they claimed a quarterfinal place with a win over Belarus (3 points) on Sunday. A Seleção faces New Zealand (1 point) at St. James' Park needing a solitary point to top the group, which would eliminate the Oly-Whites in the process.
Egypt (1 point) remains alive by virtue of their Sunday draw against New Zealand, so the Pharaohs game against Belarus (3 points) in Glasgow will all but determine who finishes in the C2 spot. However, if New Zealand shocks the world in Newcastle and grabs three points, a draw would see both Belarus and Egypt heading home. However, if the Belarussians grab all three points, even the upset of the century won't keep Oceania's representative alive.
Projected Standings: 1. Brazil 9 pts., 2. Belarus 4 pts., 3. Egypt 2 pts., 4. New Zealand 1 pt.
Group B: 12 p.m. ET Starts
Current Standings: 1. Mexico, 2. South Korea, 3. Switzerland, 4. Gabon
Group B is the most wide open group in either the men's or women's tournaments, thanks to a pair of draws on Thursday. Mexico and South Korea (4 points each) are best positioned, thanks to their wins on Sunday. Draws in their final games -- Mexico faces Switzerland (1 point) in Cardiff, while South Korea plays Gabon (1 point) at Wembley -- would be enough, with the Mexicans staying in the top spot because of their superior goal differential
However, things rarely work out that easily, particularly in an age-group tournament. In fact, if the Swiss and Gabonese manage to win on Wednesday, then all four teams would sit on 4 points (shades of the 1994 World Cup's infamous Group E, which coincidentally featured Mexico). At that point it's all down to goal difference and possibly even goals scored.
We'll really just have to watch.
Projected Standings: 1. South Korea 7 pts., 2. Mexico 5 pts., Switzerland 2 pts., 4. Gabon 1 pt.
Group D: 12 p.m. ET Starts
Current Standings: 1. Japan (qualified), 2. Honduras, 3. Morocco, 4. Spain (eliminated)
Obviously, the big surprise here is that Spain (0 points), who seemingly owns every football trophy under the sun at the moment, will head home after their game against Morocco (1 point), much to their players' club managers' delight. A win for the Atlas Lions over frustrated La Roja in Manchester would keep the African runners-up alive for a quarterfinal spot. However, the two teams that meet in Coventry, Japan (6 points) and Honduras (4 points) would both advance with a draw.
If Morocco gets the combination of a win against Spain and a Japanese win over Honduras, things may still get tricky thanks to our old friend, goal difference. If Morocco wins 1-0 and Honduras loses 0-1, for example, all of the tiebreakers will be exhausted (both teams will be 1-1-1 and 3:3 on goal difference), meaning FIFA will have to draw lots to determine who moves on. That's an ugly, and real, possibility.
Projected Standings: 1. Japan 7 pts., 2. Honduras 5 pts., 3. Spain 3 pts., 4. Morocco 1 pt.
Group A: 2:45 p.m. ET Starts
Current Standings: 1. Great Britain, 2. Senegal, 3. Uruguay, 4. UAE (eliminated)
Host Great Britain (4 points) may lead the group by virtue of having scored one more goal than Senegal (also 4 points), but it's the Lions of Teranga who are in the driver's seat to earn position A1, as they close the preliminary round against the already-eliminated United Arab Emirates in Coventry. Meanwhile, Team GB faces a stern challenge to stay in the field, as they face Uruguay (3 points) in Cardiff. La Celeste must defeat Britain to move on, as a draw won't do them any good because of the home team's superior goal difference (+2 compared to -1).
Projected Standings: 1. Senegal 7 pts., 2. Great Britain 5 pts., 3. Uruguay 4 pts., 4. UAE 0 pts.
That means my projected quarterfinals for Saturday look like this...
Old Trafford Semifinal
(A1) Senegal vs. (B2) Mexico at Cardiff
(C1) Brazil vs. (D2) Honduras at Newcastle
(B1) South Korea vs. (A2) Great Britain at Wembley
(D1) Japan vs. (C2) Belarus at Old Trafford
Follow Mr. Dobbertean's Olympic thoughts (in the evenings during the work week) on his personal Twitter account.