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September 25, 2000
Chile, Cameroon eye first Olympic gold
Chile's 104-year wait for Olympic gold could end this week if strikers Ivan Zamorano and Reinaldo Navia maintain the scoring form that has swept them into the soccer semi-finals for the first time.
Chile have won only six silver and two bronze medals since 1896 -- and none since a silver in shooting in 1988.
Now the sharp-shooting in front of goal of Inter-Milan's Zamorano and Navia of Santiago Wanderers, has made gold a real possibility.
But Cameroon will have their own ideas about that when they meet the Chileans on Tuesday in front of an expected 75,000 crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Chile have scored 11 goals in four matches with Zamorano (4) and Navia (3) getting seven between them in wins over Morocco (4-1), Spain (3-1), and 1996 Olympic champions Nigeria (4-1).
Their only slip was when they lost their final group match 1-0 to South Korea, although they still finished top of their group.
Coach Nelson Acosta admitted before the tournament that he was worried his team lacked match practice after only one warm-up game.
But Chile have been inspired by Zamorano -- and the support of around 30,000 expatriate Chileans in Melbourne who have turned the MCG into a home away from home for the South Americans.
"The country has been getting more and more excited about the prospect of an Olympic gold," said goalkeeper Nelson Tapia, one of the three over-age players in the side.
"You must keep things in perspective and concentrate only on the next match, but of course, the thought you might be making Olympic history is in your mind."
Cameroon, who have been competing in the Olympics since 1964 have never won an Olympic gold medal either, and proved with their unlikely 2-1 golden goal win over hot favourites Brazil in the quarter-finals that they cannot be discounted.
However, Cameroon will be without skipper Geremi Njitap and defender Aaron Nguimbat who were both sent off against Brazil.
Cameroon have won only two medals in the Olympics -- a boxing silver (1968) and a boxing bronze (1984) -- but believe they have the players to change that.
The nucleus of their side won the African Nations Cup earlier this year and although some key players like Rigobert Song and Joseph Desire-Job are missing, coach Jean-Paul Akono has plenty of talent to choose from including Lauren (Arsenal), Samuel Eto'o (Real Madrid) and Patrick Mboma (Parma), who all played a major part in the victory over Brazil.
And unlike Chile, Cameroon go into the semi-finals unbeaten, after a first round win over Kuwait (3-2) and draws against the United States (1-1) and the Czech Republic (1-1).
Spain closing in on second gold
Spain, who wore down Italy by a single goal in a battle of attrition in Saturday's quarter-final in Sydney, return to the same venue for what should be a livelier match against the United States in the other semi-final.
Spain's greatest Olympic soccer moment came when they beat Poland 3-2 to win the 1992 gold in Barcelona - - and coach Inaki Saez is optimistic his young team here can repeat that success.
The side that beat Italy 1-0 included three players who won the World Under-20 championships 18 months ago - - defender Marchena (Benfica), and Barcelona team-mates Xavi and goalscorer Gabri.
Overall, Spain do look to have the class and experience to beat the Americans who needed a penalty shoot-out victory to beat Japan on Saturday.
The United States have done better than ever at these Games, reaching the semi-finals for the first time in 12 attempts thanks to their dramatic victory over Japan.
The United States will be no pushover and in 18-year-old Landon Donovan of Bayer Leverkusen, they have a potential world star.
However - - discounting the penalty shoot-out victory over Japan -- the U.S. has drawn three of their four matches in the competition, only beating the all-amateur Kuwaiti team inside 90 minutes. Spain might be just a step too far for them now.
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