Korea to face Mexico, Gabon, Switzerland
By Kang Seung-woo
The Korean Olympic football team will play Mexico, Gabon and Switzerland Group B in the first round of the upcoming London Olympics.
In the men's football draw held at Wembley Stadium in London Tuesday (KST), Hong Myung-bo’s side will meet ― in his words ― the easiest possible opponents among four seeded teams that also include Britain, Brazil and Spain.
The U-23 squad will launch its Olympic campaign against Mexico at St James’ Park in Newcastle on July 26 and after the opener, it will play Switzerland at the City of Coventry Stadium on July 29 and Gabon at Wembley on August 1.
Hong said his first goal is to advance to the next round.
“What most counts is reaching the knockout stage. Nobody knows what comes next. We will just focus on that for now,” he said after the draw.
“Mexico and Gabon are strong rivals after finishing first in their regional qualifying rounds. We need to recognize their skills rather than their past results.”
Hong said Sunday that he wanted to face a team from North or Central America, and picked Mexico ― which uses its players’ individual skills and speed ― as the best choice before leaving for the draw.
In addition, history is on Korea’s side. Although the Mexicans won all five qualifiers to book its Olympic berth for the first time in eight years, Korea has a winning record in their three previous meetings at the Summer Games.
At the London Olympics in 1948, the Korean team defeated Mexico 5-3 in the round of 16, while it also edged the Central Americans 1-0 in the group stage in Athens, Greece in 2004. At the both Summer Olympics, Korea advanced to the quarterfinals, its best achievement in Olympic history. They also had a scoreless draw at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
Although Switzerland and Gabon are unheralded squads on the Olympic stage, both countries are seen as dark-horses.
Switzerland will field key players from the championship team from the U-17 World Cup in 2009, while Olympic rookie Gabon was the winner of the African qualification round.
Korea has punched its ticket to the Summer Games for a seventh-straight time and ninth overall and is pursuing its first Olympic medal.
Japan was paired with Spain, Honduras and Morocco in Group D.