El Tricolor to be a tough first test for Korea

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El Tricolor to be a tough first test for Korea

Mexico’s Olympic football team beat the United Kingdom 1-0 in a tune-up friendly in Spain on Sunday, proving that El Tricolor will pose a formidable challenge for Korea in Group B of the London Games.

Korea’s first Olympic football match is against Mexico on July 26. The Taegeuk Warriors have never brought home a medal from the Summer Games, but their roster this year is one of the strongest in Korea’s Olympic history.

While two teams from each group advance to the elimination round, momentum and goal differential will be two key factors for the young Taegeuk Warriors in their first match.

On Sunday, Mexico’s leading striker Marco Fabian scored in the 28th minute, eclipsing a star-studded U.K. side. The United Kingdom, playing together as one team during the Olympics, is considered a strong candidate for the gold medal.

Its three wild card players, or players over 22 years of age, are Ryan Giggs of Manchester United, Craig Bellamy of Liverpool and Micah Richards of Manchester City. Other young guns include Tom Cleverley of Manchester United, Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal and Ryan Bertrand of Chelsea.

Few international stars are on the 18-man roster of El Tricolor, with all but one playing in the domestic La Liga MX. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez of Manchester United and Rafael Marquez of the New York Red Bulls were not chosen as wild cards for fear of disrupting the rising stars’ teamwork.

Mexico won all five preliminary Olympic matches in the Northern and Central American region in March. It won the U-23 International championship held in Toulon, France, in May.

The team is averaging 2.81 goals per game and has scored 31 in its last 11 matches. Fabian, who scored the only goal against England on Saturday, has scored eight goals in the last six matches. This has raised concerns for Korea, a team struggling to patch up its back line.

In an interview with FIFA.com posted last week on the Web site of the world’s football governing body, Fabian said his team represents “a very good generation of players” and they are aiming for a gold medal at the London Olympics.

“We can change history, we can bring back gold and of course, I can picture myself proud, victorious and putting Mexico’s name right at the very top [of the game],” Fabian said.

The only player overseas on the Mexican team, Giovanni dos Santos of Tottenham Hotspur, has also showed impressive performances including one goal and one assist in a 2-0 victory against Brazil in a tune-up friendly early last month.

Three players from the Mexican team that finished in third at the U-20 World Cup last year also made the Olympic roster. Mexico will have final tune-up matches against Spain on Wednesday and Japan on Saturday.

Speaking to reporters recently, Korea’s national football coach Hong Myung-bo cautioned against Mexico, saying Korea needs to prepare thoroughly against, in particular, the individual offensive skills and their strategic teamwork. Korea plays its final tune-up friendly against Senegal near the English capital city on July 20.

By Kim Ji-han, Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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