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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Switzerland 1-1 Gabon

Frustration for Switzerland and a glimmer of hope for the Olympic newcomers

Aubameyang strikes for Gabon
After a scrappy game in Newcastle, England, neither Switzerland nor Olympic newcomers Gabon were able to take all three points in what was really anyone's game as the battle for the first place spot in Group B continued. Earlier today, Mexico and South Korea battled it out but the game ended in a 0-0 draw. Both Gabon and Switzerland knew that if they could capitalize on their fixture today, they would take the top spot in the group.

Switzerland were favorites to win and in the opening minutes of the game they certainly asserted their dominance. With just four minutes gone, Gabon had already had trouble controlling the organized Swiss attack and their movement off of the ball and conceded a penalty. Striker Mehmedi, who plays his club football in Ukraine, bravely stepped up to take the kick, giving Switzerland the predicted lead. The goal deficit sparked a fire in the hearts of the Gabonese players, however and by the twentieth minute, play had nearly leveled and possession was gradually breaking even. Mehmedi is likely kicking himself for one of the biggest misses in the history of Olympic football, taking his eyes off of the ball and missing the tap in that was just a yard out from a completely empty net. A quick reaction from Gabon goalkeeper Ovono saved the African side from going down 2-0. Taking the monstrous miss as a sign, Gabon took the game by the scruff of its neck. They followed up on Mehmedi's miss with a agonizingly chose chance themselves, the ball kissing the crossbar after it beat the Swiss defense and the experienced hands of Benaglio. Oliver Buff of FC Zurich failed to capitalize on an empty net after Ovono was caught far off his line in the corner of the box cleaning up a mess from his defenders. Buff then saw yellow for his late and hard challenge on Madinda.
Neither side were able to settle the ball or possess for very long. Gabon were battling their way out and although Switzerland held the lead, the loss of possession ultimately proved costly. On the stroke of half time, Gabon equalized through their attacking hero Aubameyang, who had been a total nightmare for the Swiss defense throughout the first half. He calmly took a brilliant ball from the midfield, settled it and tapped it past Benaglio with his right foot, putting Gabon level and netting their first ever Olympic goal.
The opening minutes of the second half were nearly opposite the ones of the first. Gabon were now the team dominating in the attack. They were not able to hold the ball and dominate in the final third as Switzerland had in the first few minutes of the first half but they were certainly the better side, forcing a save from Benaglio with the second half just a minute under way. Gabon briefly let their inexperience show when Frei was clumsily brought down in the midfield by a late challenge from Tandjigora. The midfielder saw yellow for the challenge. In the 49th minute, Switzerland's front runner Innocent Emeghara was nearly able to capitalize on a defensive blunder from Gabon but he was too late to react, not anticipating the swing and a miss from the center back. Ovono was quick to come and collect the loose ball, however and both sides were able to regroup. 
By the 55th minute, despite issuing yellow cards, the game was starting to get physical and the referee risked losing control. Gabon was creating more chances for themselves than Switzerland had managed in the entire game and the European nation was looking scattered. They still held more possession, but were creating an agonizing number of turnovers in the final third of the pitch. Gabon were able to hold the ball until they reached the top of the eighteen, but they lacked the striking quality to make their efforts count. The game was being set up for a nervy end for both sides as they struggled to find a rhythm and connect more than three passes. Fabian Frei came close to getting the match winner for Switzerland in the 73rd minute but he dragged his shot just wide of the far post. Substitutions for both sides made minimal impacts and Switzerland were forced to make a tactical change when Oliver Buff was shown his second yellow of the game and was sent off. The match at this point had deteriorated to scrappy football with lots of play in the air and lots of turnovers from both sides. The revival from Gabon was inspiring, but unfortunately for both sides, neither was able to take advantage of the opportunity to go to the top of the group and the game ended 0-0.

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