Mexico will be the strongest team in a section which could be the most evenly matched of the tournament.
Switzerland have a talented squad full of promising youngsters who have shone on the European stage, whilst Gabon were surprise winners of the African qualifying section. South Korea are likely to be no-one’s mugs either.
As it is, Mexico should be the favourites to come through a section that could suit them well. Their technical game should be good enough to dominate against Gabon and South Korea, though the physicality and fitness of both could test the Central Americans. Mexico came through CONCACAF qualifying unscathed and in impressive fashion. They should be favourites though they will be without many of their star names, such as Javier Hernandez and Andres Guardado.
Fernando Luis Tena’s squad will be spearheaded by Tottenham forward Giovani dos Santos, so often an enigma at club level but usually impressive for his country. Dos Santos aside, there is Nestor Araujo, another talented youngster, and the prolific midfielder Marco Fabian. Many of the squad were at last year’s Copa America, when Tena was allowed to manage the team in place of the senior coach. He took the youngsters to give them tournament experience prior to this summer’s Olympics, a mark of how seriously they are taking the competition. It should serve them well .
Perhaps the toughest opposition in the group stage will be Switzerland. They too are without their biggest names – Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri – but should be strong anyway. They have the talented Diego Benaglio in goal, whilst Fabien Frei and Timm Klose should also be big players for them. Having done so well at last year’s European under 21 Championships and taken on the might of Spain they will be in a good position to compete.
South Korea will be another team hoping for a last eight place and will be spearheaded by Park Chu Young, who has endured a miserable time at Arsenal this season. He also managed to upset his country by delaying his military service, but has managed to make up with the national team and will play a key part for South Korea. Koo Ja Cheol will captain the side, and they can also call on Celtic’s Ki Sung-Yeung and Sunderland’s Ji Dong-Won. They will be a real threat at the Games, and though they probably won’t get near winning, they could give some of the favourites a tough time.
Gabon meanwhile, are something of a dark horse. Having swept through the African qualifiers in style they will be hopeful they can spring a shock or three on their group stage opponents as well. They have the talent to do so as well, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang likely to spearhead their attack and give them a real cutting edge. Bruno Ecuele Manga will be another key threat for the Africans, who have the potential to stun their group rivals.
Prediction: 1 – Mexico 2 – Gabon 3 – South Korea 4 – Switzerland