Match Report – Spain 5-2 Ivory Coast (AET)

Posted on by Matthew T

Spain ended a 21-year wait to reach the semi-finals of the Men’s Olympics Soccer tournament on Saturday after a thrilling 5-2 victory over Ivory Coast after extra time.

Yet another fantastic soccer match at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on Saturday was played out between Spain and Ivory Coast. Spain were the obvious favourites but it was far from easy, and on another day, could quite easily have been going home early. The African nation put up a brave fight and displayed the character and quality that had seen them progress through a tough Group D including Brazil and Germany.

In a match where the Spanish dominated the ball as expected, it was actually Ivory Coast that took the lead in the 10th minute. Manchester United central defender Eric Bailly bundled home captain Max Gradel’s corner far too easily.

However, Spain continued to probe and found their equaliser later in the first half. Mikel Merino’s chipped cross to the far post caught out full-back Wilfried Singo as he attempted to safely chest the ball back to his goalkeeper. Little did he know that Dani Olmo was sneaking round the back and poked the loose ball home for his first goal of the tournament.

The second half followed a similar pattern to the first. Spain dominated possession and Ivory Coast were happy to hit them on the counter-attack. However, ‘The Elephants’ more than held their own. But they entered dreamland in the first minute of injury-time at the end of the second half, as Max Gradel picked the perfect moment to net his first goal of the tournament as well. His left-footed strike from a narrow angle seemed to take everyone by surprise, including goalkeeper Unai Simon, who should have done better.

But their joy was short-lived. Spain broke hearts just two minutes later, inside the third minute of the additional five. The Ivory Coast defence somehow failed to deal with a simple cross, and after poorly letting the ball bounce, Rafa Mir pounced to equalise immediately. The striker was an instant hero after only being on the field for around a minute and the game was sent to extra time as a result.

Eric Bailly’s heroics of scoring in the first half were quickly forgotten when he bizarrely handled a Spanish corner at the start of extra time to concede a penalty. Real Sociedad forward Mikel Oyarzabal coolly stepped up to send the goalkeeper the wrong way and put his side into the lead for the first time in the match.

It was a long way back from here for an exhausted Ivory Coast side and this told in the closing minutes of the second period of extra time. Rafa Mir added two more goals late on with some neat finishing to seal the victory, and his hat-trick as well. After playing a total of a little over 50 minutes in the three group matches, he was certainly the unlikely hero.

As a result, Spain advance to the semi-finals to face Japan on Wednesday, whilst Ivory Coast will be heading home wondering what might have been. Heads can be held high though after some impressive battling performances against elite opposition.

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