Football: Mali in focus at Olympics

First it was Nigeria, then Cameroon. Now it could be Mali. The Olympic soccer tournament has thrown up two African champions in a row.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:08 IST
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First it was Nigeria, then Cameroon. Now it could be Mali. The Olympic soccer tournament has thrown up two African champions in a row and there's a chance of a hat-trick. Rising star Mali first served notice of its credibility as a rising soccer nation at the African Nations Cup. It also eliminated Olympic champion Cameroon during the qualifying rounds for Athens 2004. A 0-0 tie with Mexico made more people take note and yesterday it flashed the clearest possible signal to its Olympic rivals by beating host nation Greece 2-0. "We got what we wanted and we're very happy for that," said Mamadi Berthe, scorer of the first goal in Thessaloniki. "We had good organisation in our game, while by scoring the second goal we lost all track of anxiety and we were able to play our game. It was a good game and we enjoyed it." They'll enjoy it even more if Mali beats South Korea on Tuesday to reach the last eight. The Koreans beat Mexico yesterday thanks to Kim Jung-woo's 16th minute strike. Outsiders' game While Argentina is flying the flag for the powerhouse teams with its second shutout of the championship to reach the quarterfinal with a game to spare, the outsiders are maintaining the Olympic tradition. Iraq, a surprise qualifier bearing in mind the conflict back home and its inability to play on its own turf, aims to follow up its amazing 4-2 victory over Portugal by beating Costa Rica in Athens today. Ghana bids to show that its 2-2 tie with powerhouse Italy was no fluke. The African nation was 2-0 up and outplaying the Serie A stars by halftime before the Italians hit back in the second half. Paraguay, which ousted Brazil in the South American qualifying rounds, hopes to follow up its 4-3 victory over Japan with a triumph over the Ghanaians. Keen contest Powerhouse Portugal, by contrast, can't afford another upset loss when it meets Morocco. At least Argentina shows that one of the leading soccer powers is in top form. Carlos Tevez and Javier Saviola hit the target against Tunisia at Patras on Saturday for a second shutout after its 6-0 beating of Serbia-Montenegro. Coach Marcelo Bielsa made several changes to rest players because of the tight schedule and Barcelona star Saviola came off the bench to score a second half goal. Argentina now has six points from two games and Tuesday's match against Australia, which holds second spot after a 5-1 beating of Serbia, will decide which team finishes top. John Aloisi and Ahmad Elrich scored two goals each for Australia after Tim Cahill gave the Socceroos the lead after 11 minutes at Iraklion, Crete. By the time Srdan Radonjic replied for the sorry Serbs, his team was already 4-0 down and has now conceded 11 goals in two games. Jittery Italians The Italians are jittery after dropping two points to Ghana and coach Claudio Gentile has warned his players he wants a 90 minute performance from them rather than the 45 minute fightback they showed on Thursday. "We lost two points against Ghana and we just have to gain these points against Japan," Gentile told reporters yesterday. "We have to be very careful this time. We must not have the same first half as we had two days ago. This time the players are better prepared and very well prepared and I hope this time the performance will be better." Eves' action In women's action, Abby Wambach made it 16 goals in 17 games as the United States moved closer to regaining its Olympic title with a shaky 2-0 win over Brazil. Outplayed for much of the game in Thessaloniki, the Americans, who triumphed at the Atlanta Games in 1996, were thankful to go ahead through a Mia Hamm penalty in the 58th minute. Wambach then made sure of the points and a quarterfinal spot with a second goal 13 minutes from the end. There was drama during the game when 19-year-old Brazilian forward Kelly, who had entered the game only minutes earlier, fell to the ground late in the second half after a collision and lay still for several minutes with what turned out to be a broken collarbone. Her neck was immobilised and she was placed on a stretcher and then on a cart. "She had the staggers after the collision, and then kept playing," US forward Mia Hamm said. "And then I turn around, and she's on the ground. You could tell that something wasn't right. Her eyes were kind of in the top of her head. It was a scary moment." In the other Group G match, Australia edged Greece 1-0. China and Mexico drew 1-1 in Group F. The result keeps both in contention for the quarterfinals, even though standings leader and Women's World Cup champion Germany, which doesn't play until Tuesday, tops the group after its 8-0 thrashing of the Chinese three days ago. Nigeria edged Japan 1-0 in Group E and is level on three points with the Japanese at the top of the standings. World Cup runner-up Sweden, the other team in the group, meets Nigeria on Tuesday and has no points after losing to the Japanese three days ago. (AP)