04 August, 2012

Olympic Final Four

The unlikely quarterfinal run of Sporting Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza (pictured) and the Honduras Olympic team has come to an end. Honduras seized a 1-0 lead over Brazil, and then a 2-1 lead in the second half on a goal by Roger Espinoza, but Brazil would equalize and then take a 3-2 lead on a pair of brilliant plays by Neymar. Mario Martinez scored in the 12th minute for Honduras, then Leandro Damiao tied the game a little before halftime. Roger Espinoza put Honduras back on top early in the second half, but then Neymar, playing attacking midfield, delivered the ball to the big goal scorer Leandro Damiao, who was fouled in the box. Neymar converted the penalty kick to tie the game 2-2, and then the magic happened. In the 60th minute, Neymar delivered a truly beautiful pass to Leandro Damiao near the penalty spot, and Leandro Damiao scored his second goal of the match. All credit for the second two goals should go to Neymar, however, and he is without a doubt the best player of any age at the Olympic games. The crowd at St James Park in Newcastle gave Roger Espinoza a standing ovation when he left early with his second yellow card, and gave the entire Honduras team another standing O when they left the field. As did I, watching at home. Congratulations, Honduras. It is not known whether Roger Espinoza will re-join Sporting KC by the 8th of August for the US Open Cup final at Livestrong Sporting Park against the Seattle Sounders.

In the first match this morning, Japan defeated Egypt 3-0 at Old Trafford, Manchester. Kensuke Nagai scored in the 14th minute, when Egypt defender Saadeldin Saad knocked down his own keeper, leaving an empty net. Nagai suffered a leg injury five minutes later and was replaced by substitute Manabu Saito. Egypt were reduced to ten men in the 41st minute when Saadeldin Saad got a straight red card for tackling Manabu Saito on a breakaway as the last defender. Maya Yoshida and Yuki Otsu added late goals for Japan against the shorthanded Egyptians.

The second match of the day was also the second-most exciting of the day. Mexico took a 2-0 lead over Senegal after 62 minutes at Wembley on goals by Jorge Enriquez and Javier Aquino. I confess, I thought Mexico had the game in the bag. But, 19-year-old Senegalese sensation Moussa Konate scored to cut the lead in half, then substitute Ibrahima Balde tied the game against the run of play to force overtime. Sadly, Senegal's defense was not nearly as good as their offense. Giovani Dos Santos and Hector Herrera both pounced on misplays by the Senegal defense to score in overtime as Mexico won 4-2.

The Olympic hosts saved the best match for last. Great Britain faced off against South Korea in Millenium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, and it was another overtime thriller. Sunderland forward Ji Dong-Won scored off a corner kick to give South Korea a 1-0 lead in the 29th minute, but then it got crazy in the 35th minute. Oh Jae-Suk was called for a handball in the box, and Aaron Ramsey scored a penalty kick. Then, literally a minute later, Oh Jae-Suk took down Daniel Sturridge in the box and was called for his second penalty kick in as many minutes. This time, Ramsey's attempt was blocked by South Korea's senior NT goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong, to preserve the 1-1 draw. In the second half, Micah Richards collided with South Korea's hero Jung Sung-Ryong, and both players were replaced by substitutes. Regulation ended with the score tied 1-1.

After another 30 minutes of both teams attacking hard but neither able to score, the match went into penalties. Both teams were perfect after 4 rounds, but in the fifth round, South Korea's backup keeper Lee Beom-Young saved Daniel Sturridge's attempt, and Ki Sung-Yueng of Celtic eliminated the host nation, 5-4 in penalties. Too bad. Watch out for Ji Dong-Won, he is 21 years old and has been excellent in these Olympic games.

Japan will play against Mexico in the first semifinal match at Wembley on Tuesday, August 7, while South Korea plays against Brazil at Old Trafford, Manchester. Congratulations to Japan for making the semifinals in both Men's and Women's soccer. The women's semifinals on Monday, August 6, will feature Women's World Cup champions Japan against France in what should be an easy victory for Japan at Wembley, and the United States against fellow North American entry Canada at Old Trafford, so the Women's Gold Medal Match will very likely be a rematch of the 2011 Women's World Cup finals.


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