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September 18, 2000
Soccer: Battle for quarters hots upMike Collett
Seven quarter-final places are still open, with only Italy assured of a place in the last eight, as the Olympic soccer tournament enters its final round of group matches this week.
Sadly for the hosts, Australia are the only team already assured of being eliminated from the competition.
Even Morocco, who lost both their opening Group B matches, and Slovakia, who have lost their two games in Group D, could still qualify for the knock-out stages.
The top two teams in each of the four first-round groups go through, with teams level on points separated by overall goal difference and not their head-to-head record.
Slovakia's coach Dusan Radolsky, though, has not given up hope and evoked the Olympic spirit after his team lost 2-1 to Japan in Canberra on Sunday.
"There is only the faintest hope but we are not mathematically out of it yet and we are entitled to dream that we can still go through. That is what the Games mean to me -- we are still in there fighting."
While Radolsky and his Slovak team continue to live in hope, Chile and Japan are virtually assured of reaching the quarter-finals and defending champions Nigeria and 1992 Champions Spain look set to join them.
That leaves three places, with gold medal favourites Brazil, the United States, Kuwait, South Africa, South Korea and Olympic debutants Honduras in the frame.
FIFA are delighted with the way the competition has progressed. Communications Director Keith Cooper said on Monday: "It has been thoroughly successful. The only shame is that Australia were eliminated so early but, having said that, they went out in great style... The overall standard of play has been excellent."
Group A: Italy, searching for their first Olympic soccer gold medal for 64 years, have qualified after wins over Australia (1-0) and Honduras (3-1) and cannot finish lower than second, which they will do if Nigeria beat them in Adelaide on Tuesday.
Italy top the table with a maximum six points, while Nigeria have four after their 3-3 draw with Honduras and their 3-2 win over Australia. However, if Honduras, who have one point, beat Australia, who have none, by more than two goals in their final match in Sydney on Tuesday and Nigeria lose to Italy, Honduras will finish second.
Chile have won both their opening matches, over Morocco (4-1) and Spain (3-1), and top the group with six points, followed by Spain (3), South Korea (3) and Morocco (0).
Spain should finish second with their last match against Morocco and South Korea having to play Chile, but if Morocco beat Spain by four goals and Chile beat the Koreans, Morocco will move up from bottom to second and steal an unlikely quarter-final spot.
Cameroon lead the standings with four points, followed by surprise outfit Kuwait (3), the United States (2) and the disappointing Czech Republic (1). All four can still qualify and the United States will do well not to under-estimate the all-amateur Kuwaiti side when they meet in Melbourne on Tuesday.
Japan will be looking for their 20th successive victory when they face Brazil in what should be a superb match at The Gabba in Brisbane on Wednesday. Japan have six points from two games and lead the group, with South Africa second on three points, followed by Brazil on three. Slovakia have lost both their matches.
South Africa stunned Brazil 3-1 at The Gabba on Sunday but although that victory has given them enormous confidence, it will not guarantee them a place in the last eight.
If they draw with Slovakia and Brazil finally show their real form against the Japanese, Brazil and Japan will qualify.
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