Ivory Coast held Germany 1-1 in their final Group D fixture on Wednesday to eliminate the 2016 silver medallists and reach the Olympic quarterfinals, equalling their best-ever performance at the Games. Egypt also progressed with a 2-0 victory over Australia, overtaking Argentina on goal difference to reach the knockouts, but South Africa lost three from three to crash out.
Elsewhere, the Zambia women's team were lauded for their Olympic exploits despite Tuesday's elimination as they bounced back from a 10-3 drubbing by Netherlands to hold China to a 4-4 draw before only losing 1-0 to the mighty Brazil in their final game.
Ivory Coast eliminate Germany
After taking four points from their opening two matches, Ivory Coast needed to avoid defeat against Stefan Kuntz's Germany in order to progress. Germany, needing to force the issue after struggling in their opening games, were the stronger side during the first half, with Ragnar Ache heading against the crossbar and Marco Richter also going close on several occasions.
However, the Elephants also served notice of their threat as Christian Kouame headed over late in the first half when he ought to have hit the target. Then Soualiho Haidara's team got the opener midway through the second half when Max-Alain Gradel -- who had been so impressive against Brazil -- flicked on Wilfried Singo's throw, and Benjamin Henrichs, caught out by a touch off Kouame and the slippery conditions, turned the ball beyond Florian Muller into his own net.
However, their advantage was short-lived, as Eduard Lowen beat Eliezer Ira Tape with a delicious free kick in the 73rd minute -- sending a weighted effort into the right hand corner of the net after Eric Bailly had fouled Max Kruse.
It was the first glimpse of the quality that Germany have only hinted at during these Games, as they were dispatched 4-2 by Brazil in a rematch of the 2016 final before narrowly beating Saudi Arabia 3-2 on Saturday.
Germany threw caution to the wind during the latter stages as they sought an equaliser, but the Elephants held on to secure unlikely progress and set up a meeting with Group C winners Spain in Rifu on Saturday. "We have a feeling of pride because no one expected us to reach this level considering the group that we had," Gradel told FIFA.com. "It's a real feat to escape from that group."
Ivory Coast have now equalled their run to the quarterfinals at the 2008 Games in China, when they were ultimately defeated by Nigeria, but will hope to go one better against an experienced Spain.
Egypt edge Argentina in tight finish
In Rifu, Egypt secured their quarterfinal spot with a 2-0 victory over Australia, as Ahmed Rayan and Amar Hamdy scored in each half to send the Pharaohs into the knockouts.
Australia, failing to build on their opening victory over Argentina, were surprisingly lethargic from the off, ceding possession to an Egypt side who were inventive, vibrant and technically superior to their opponents.
The North Africans were good value for their opener, which came following delightful innovation from Premier League flop (with Stoke City) Ramadan Sobhi. Picking up the ball wide on the left, the U23 Africa Cup of Nations Player of the Tournament played a sharp one-two, received the ball darting into space, cut past a defender at the byline and sent a sumptuous cross in for Rayan to slot home just before half-time.
Egypt ought to have extended their lead in the second half when Sobhi fired carelessly over from close range -- a reminder of the concentration lapses that have so characterised his career -- after Hamdy's effort had struck the woodwork.
Manchester City's Daniel Arzani and Kenya-born Thomas Deng went close for the Olyroos during a frantic final ten minutes, before Hamdy capitalised on a goalkeeper error after Tom Glover spilled Sobhi's shot into his path.
Despite being level on four points each, the Pharaohs' victory saw them leapfrog Argentina on goal difference and set up a game with Brazil on Saturday. "Right from the start of the competition, our aim was to reach the quarterfinals, and we've succeeded," influential goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy told journalists. "We entered this game knowing there was no option but to win. We managed to get the win, with a good performance, and I think the players for what we achieved -- we'll focus strongly for the next match."
Egypt have qualified for the men's football tournament more times than any other African nation -- this is their 15th Games -- and with a quarterfinal triumph they could at least equal their previous best: fourth-placed finishes in 1928 and 1964.
Winless South Africa fail to impress
It wasn't to be a clean sweep for Africa's men's teams at the Olympics, as South Africa -- up against it after consecutive defeats in their opening fixtures -- were dispatched 3-0 by Mexico at the Sapporo Dome.
Needing a Japan victory over France and a four-goal difference swing to progress, Amaglug-glug knew they needed an unlikely improvement in fortunes, but their encouraging opening stages quickly gave way to defensive lapses.
Alexis Vega and Luis Romo struck in the first half to leave SA on the brink, and their plight was compounded when Tercious Malepe's foul on Henry Martin was adjudged to be a red-card offence by VAR in the 56th minute.
Three minutes later Martin added a third, and even Carlos Rodriguez's red card soon afterwards couldn't give South Africa a way back into the bout.
Zambia's women vow to come back stronger
In the women's competition, Zambia's Olympic football journey ended on Tuesday as they were defeated 1-0 by Brazil in Saitama.
It's been a rollercoaster journey for the Copper Queens, who were obliterated 10-3 by Netherlands in their opener -- the nation's record defeat -- but then held China 4-4 in a thrilling second clash. There was no shame in Tuesday's narrow defeat by Brazil, who rank seventh in the world, particularly after Zambia were reduced to 10 players in the 13th minute following a harsh red card to Lushomo Mweemba.
However, their performances in Japan earned recognition from the highest office in the land, as the nation's president Edgar Lungu took to Instagram to praise the players.
"It was a great performance at the Olympics by our Copper Queens," he wrote on Instagram. "Despite bowing out of the tournament, there are many positives to pick from the young ladies. One word that describes their performance [vs. Brazil] is resilience. Despite the red card and a nasty injury to our goalkeeper, the girls remained resilient against a strong opponent. You are a quintessence of hard work, which is the true Zambian spirit. You kept your chin up against the best in the world. You are world class yourselves, well done girls. You have represented your country and continent well and we are proud of you."
Zambia forward Barbra Banda earned widespread praise during the competition, as she netted back-t0-back hat tricks against Netherlands and China to equal the Olympic record for goals scored in a single edition of the tournament [later broken by Netherlands striker Vivianne Miedema.]
While fellow forward Racheal Kundananji vowed that this young Zambia team will come back stronger and that they're targeting success at next year's African Women's Cup of Nations in Morocco. "We just want to go to the AWCON and come back with the cup," she told the Zambian FA. "We have to show them that we are the best, that we are not losers, and that we were [in Japan] because we were champions."
If they can ride the crest of this wave, it should be fun to watch.