London 2012 Olympics fact-file - Group B
Two changes of focus has left Mexico going to London with high expectations of a medal. A shift to investment in youth (in planning for 2014) has seen Mexico win the FIFA U-17 World Cup and finish third in the FIFA U-20 World Cup - both last year. The other change has seen the Coach abandon his favoured defensive formation to adopt a 4-3-3 formation. Arguably a necessity, as El Tri is blessed with attacking players.
On the back of winning the Pan American games last year, the U-23 team won the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying, winning every game and scoring 16 goals in the process. Mexico followed qualification by winning the prestigious U-21 Toulon tournament (scoring another 14 goals). In each of these tournaments El Tri have had the top goal scorer - Marco Fabián, Alan Pulido and Oribe Peralta - all three travelling to London. Attack may well be their best form of defence.
Coach - Luis Fernando Tena: Not renowned for tactical astuteness, nevertheless, Tena is an experienced club manager and assistant coach to the Mexico senior team. His debut as U-23 Coach though was a nightmare. At the Copa America 2011, El Tri lost every game and had eight players suspended. The turnaround could not have gone much better, with three tournament victories since under Tena.
One to watch - Marco Fabián: An attacking midfielder whose goalscoring record is better than most forwards, Fabián has scored 27 goals in 125 matches for club Chivas, and 13 in 12 appearances at U-23 level. Skilful and pacy, he is vital to El Tri, not just for goals but his ability to create them for others.
Republic of South Korea
The core of the team has been together a long time, reaching the quarter-finals at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2009 and as part of the U-23 team, finishing third at the Asian Games in 2010. Both coached by Olympic Coach Hong Myung-Bo. Korea qualified by winning Group A of the AFC Preliminary qualifying rounds, part of an impressive run that has seen them unbeaten since November 2010.
The run is built around a team ethic and mean defence. However, their defensive leader, Jeju United’s Hong Jeong-Ho is injured and will miss the Olympics - potentially a big loss for the team. The traditional weakness of scoring remains and the Coach will be reliant on midfielders Ki Sung-Yueng and Koo Ja-Cheol to augment the squad’s attack that consists of only two forwards - one of which, Park Chu-Young, was only a fringe player at Arsenal last season.
Coach - Hong Myung-Bo: A legendary Korean player, going to four consecutive World Cup finals and captaining the team to fourth place in 2002. Since retiring Hong Myung-Bo has been Coach only at national level, including the U-20 and U-23 teams as well as assisting Dick Advocaat and Pim Verbeek at senior level.
One to watch - Koo Ja-Cheol: At FC Augsburg (on loan from VfL Wolfsburg), the Korean returned five goals and one assist in 14 starts. His return for the senior team is as impressive - 10 goals in 27 games. However, his main role is an all-action midfielder and will likely captain the team in Hong Jeong-Ho’s absence.
Les Panthères qualified for their Olympic debut by winning the final of the 2011 U-23 CAF Championship, upsetting hosts Morocco in the final. They did so without star player Pierre Aubameyang who travels to London along with overage players Didier Ovono and Bruno Ecuele Manga. The tournament win was founded on a miserly defence, conceding no more than one goal in any match - led by Remy Ebanega, who was selected to the team of the tournament.
The tendency is for the defence to soak up the pressure and to attack on the counter using the pace on the flanks of Alex N’Doumbou and Charly Moussono with Aubameyang up front, although the injury to André Poko will be a big loss. Gabon should not be underestimated - eleven of the squad have represented their country at senior level and the U-23 team are used to playing together. Les Panthères may be formidable opposition.
Coach - Claude Albert Mbourounot: Mbourounot coached the senior team in 2003, and then became Technical Director of the Gabon Football Federation, fulfilling this role parallel to his duties as Coach of the U-23 side. Led Gabon to Olympic qualification in his first tournament as Coach.
One to watch - Bruno Ecuele Manga: Part of a Lorient defence that only conceded 14 goals last season, Ecuele Manga has impressive defensive statistics, as well as a high passing accuracy - enough for Lorient to have offered a new contract with a €10m release clause written in. Should form an effective partnership with Remy Ebanega.
Switzerland are back at the Olympics for the first time in 84 years, partly as a result of the Swiss FA’s long-term investment in youth which has produced a very promising generation of players. Qualifying by finishing runners-up to Spain in the 2011 U-21 European Championships, the team performed impressively, not conceding a goal on the way to the final in Denmark.
However, the refusal of their clubs to release the excellent trio Yann Sommer, Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri may impact their medal chances. Even so, the Schweizer Nati may be expected to progress from the group, as the core of the last year’s team remains and includes players who won the U-17 World Cup in 2009. Defensively strong, the Swiss also boast attacking talent in the likes of Pajtim Kasami, Admir Mehmedi and Innocent Emeghara. Playing high quality football, usually in a 4-1-4-1 formation, they can play the possession game but have pace to counter quickly too.
Coach - Pierluigi Tami: Tami has spent his entire career in Switzerland. A defender as a player, on retirement he went on to coach at club level before graduating to the national setup. Tami coached the U-17s before moving on to coach the U-21s from 2009 and assist at senior level.
One to watch - Innocent Emeghara: The Nigerian-born player was prolific at club level in Switzerland, scoring over 40 goals, which earned him a transfer to FC Lorient in 2011. At U-21 level, he has scored five goals in eight matches, can be played wide and is forming a burgeoning partnership with Mehmedi.