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Olympics Group B Preview: Switzerland hoping to battle through

Olympics Group B Preview: Switzerland hoping to battle through

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African surprise packages Gabon make their tournament debut in a group that also includes Mexico and South Korea, who feature Premier League pair Park Chu-Young and Ji Dong-Won

By Matthew Harold

Although it may not be the most glamorous group, with the likes of Team GB, Brazil and Spain elsewhere, that does not mean that Group B at the Olympic Games is any less interesting.

With European Under-21 Championship finalists Switzerland alongside Mexico, South Korea and African surprise package Gabon, this section is set to be a tight affair, as all four teams continue to chase the dream of Olympic gold.

Goal.com previews each of the sides that will compete in Group B, along with the players who may catch the eye of supporters and scouts around the world.

MEXICO

OVERVIEW

After coming out of their qualifying group with maximum points, including a 7-1 drubbing of Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico booked their place in the competition with a comfortable semi-final victory over Canada, before claiming first place in the Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament with an extra-time win over Honduras.

Many of the Mexican side warmed up for their trip to the United Kingdom by claiming victory in the Toulon Tournament in May, before defeating Team GB during a friendly in Marbella, played over three 30-minute intervals.

They arrive in Britain without the services of either Jonathan dos Santos or Carlos Vela, who both decided to skip the Olympic tournament in order to concentrate on their club careers.  

Mexico failed to qualify for the last Olympic Games and will be looking to improve on their performance in Athens in 2004, when they were knocked out in the group stages.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Chivas starlet Marco Fabian has been on fire for the Mexican side, after lighting up both the qualifying tournament and the Toulon competition, the 23-year-old already has 13 goals to his name in only 12 appearances for the Under-23 team.

Fabian has a penchant for the spectacular when it comes to goals, which will no doubt have the British public drooling and many club owners throughout Europe reaching for their chequebooks.

COACH

Luis Fernando Tena is the assistant to national team boss Jose Manuel de la Torre, having taken over the Olympic side last year when they took part in the Copa America tournament and then oversaw their recent successes in both the qualifying stages and the Toulon tournament. The 54-year-old will be looking to add yet another medal to his collection. 

PREDICTION

Given their recent successes, the Mexicans should be looking to get out of the group comfortably, at which point they would be neatly placed for a semi-final berth, as they would avoid both Spain and Brazil in the quarter-final stages.

GABON

OVERVIEW

The surprise package from Africa, Gabon made their way to Britain after qualifying ahead of both the Ivory Coast and South Africa in their group, before seeing off Senegal and Morocco to book a place at the Olympic Games.

Having a fairly large contingent of their squad based in France should help the Gabon side, after they qualified for the tournament with a squad made up of mainly home-based players. With the more experienced players taking part, however, they will have a better chance at shocking the competition.

Unfortunately for Gabon, they have been denied the services of defender Bruno Ecuele Manga after his Lorient coach Christian Gourcuff refused to release the 23-year-old for the Games.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Former AC Milan youth product Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be the lynchpin for this Gabon side if they are to do anything in Group B. The Saint-Etienne striker was on fine form for his side last season, claiming 18 goals, and he will be looking to translate that to his national team.

COACH

Currently the technical director of the Gabon Football Federation, Claude-Albert Mbourounot has also been in charge of the Olympic side, seeing them through a tough qualifying campaign, as they made their way to London 2012 as Africa’s top representatives.

PREDICTION

Just getting to the Olympic Games was an incredible feat for Gabon, but in a group with three really tough sides, they will be lucky to finish anywhere other than bottom in the section.

SOUTH KOREA

OVERVIEW

The South Korea side are well-known to the Olympic Games, having qualified for the last six tournaments, but they have only made it out of the group stages on one occasion, during the 2004 competition in Athens.

Arsenal’s Park Chu-Young and Sunderland’s Ji Dong-Won are included alongside Celtic midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng, while Kim Bo-Kyung is set to ply his trade in the United Kingdom, with a move to Cardiff City on the cards.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Celtic playmaker Ki will be a key figure in the South Korea side and if he plays to his potential. Rubin Kazan and QPR have already been linked with a move for him this summer and Bhoys manager Neil Lennon may be fielding more interest if he can shine at the Games.

COACH

Considered as one of the greatest players ever to come out of South Korea, Olympic coach Hong Myung-Bo played 136 times for the national side and has been involved with the Olympic team since 2007 when he was named the assistant coach, taking over the top job two years later.

PREDICTION

With both Mexico and Switzerland in their group, South Korea are going to find it hard to make it to the quarter-finals and will probably have to settle for third place in the section.

SWITZERLAND

OVERVIEW

Switzerland booked their place in the Olympic Games by making it to the final of the Under-21 European Championships last year, keeping four consecutive clean sheets before losing to Spain in the showpiece match.

Unfortunately for the Swiss they will arrived in Britain without Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri who both made summer moves to Germany, signing with both Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayern Munich and thus have been excused so they can hit the ground running with their new clubs.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Wolfsburg goalkeeper Diego Benaglio has been the rock behind the national team’s stout defence, having only conceded one goal during the side’s World Cup 2010 campaign; he has claimed 42 caps so far and will be a key member of the Swiss team if they are to claim a medal.

COACH

Pierluigi Tami, while being the Olympic coach for Switzerland, is also Ottmar Hitzfeld’s assistant with the senior team and the 50-year-old also doubles up as the Under-21 head coach, winning the 2011 Swiss Coach of the Year award for guiding them to the final of last year’s European Championships.

PREDICTION

After getting to that final, Switzerland will be looking to go one better here and, given that they will not face either Spain or Brazil until the semi-final stages, could be in prime position to collect a medal.

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