Mexico and Brazil coast as men’s soccer tournament opens with surprises.
CHOFU, Japan — Mexico, the 2012 Olympic men’s soccer gold medalist, opened its campaign to regain that title by thrashing France, 4-1, on Thursday at Tokyo Stadium.
Alexis Vega scored on a first-half header and Sebastian Cordova, Uriel Antuna and Erick Aguirre added goals after halftime as Mexico outclassed a French team featuring two stars from Mexico’s Liga MX.
One of them, André-Pierre Gignac, scored on a penalty kick in the 69th minute after Randal Kolo Muani was scythed down in the Mexican box.
Gignac, a 35-year-old striker who has played more than 200 matches since 2015 for the Mexican club Tigres, is playing in the Olympics as one of France’s three overage players. On Thursday, he was a brooding, vocal but poorly supplied presence, chatting with the Mexico players in Spanish, challenging his teammates in French and, at one point, excoriating the Australian referee for a perceived injustice in English.
“This will be a special game for me because my sons are Mexican so I’m excited about it,” he had told reporters this week. In the end, it was one he probably would like to forget quickly; his team can still advance with better performances against South Africa and host Japan in its next two group games.
Mexico’s thumping of France, a country known for its strong youth teams, was not Thursday’s only surprise: Australia beat Argentina, 2-0, in Sapporo, and Spain, which had called in a handful of players from the senior team that advanced to the European Championship semifinals only two few weeks ago, was held to a scoreless tie by a defensive-minded Egypt.
In Yokohama, Brazil, the reigning Olympic men’s champion, outclassed an out of sorts Germany, 4-2, in the same stadium where it had beaten the same opponent to secure its fifth and most recent World Cup crown in 2002. Unlike on that sultry night two decades ago, the game was played in front of empty stands and without any competitive tension.
Richarlison, one of Brazil’s three overage players, was the game’s star performer. The Everton striker scored the team’s opening three goals inside 30 minutes as Germany, playing with a roster of largely little known players, crumbled in the face of the early onslaught. Only a penalty save from goalkeeper Florian Mueller prevented there from facing a four-goal deficit before halftime.
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