Although the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games won't be until this weekend, the quest for the gold medal will actually begin at noontime in the United Kingdom on Wednesday, when the women's football group stage match between the hosts Great Britain and New Zealand will take place at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff. Also starting before the opening ceremonies is the men's football competition, which will commence the next day. To help you prepare for what lies ahead, Soccer Central Philippines presents this little guide for the event.
Olympic Football was first played in the 1900 Paris Olympic Games, with Great Britain winning the first-ever gold medal in the sport. Other than the 1932 Los Angeles Games, men's football has been a regular event in the quadrennial event. However, it was only in the 1996 Centennial Games in Atlanta that women's football became a medal event. Then-host the United States was its first gold medal winners. Great Britain and Hungary have won the most number of gold medals for men's football with three, although the British last won their gold in 1912, while the Magyars last won theirs in 1968. The Americans have won three in women's football, cementing their status as the best women's team in the world, and if not for a "golden goal" by Dagny Mellgren for Norway in their gold medal match at the 2000 Sydney Games.
For this edition of the Games, six venues were selected to house the different matches for men and women. There are:
City of Coventry Stadium in Coventry - more commonly known as The Ricoh, home of Coventry F.C.
Hampden Park in Glasgow -default home stadium of the Scotland national football team
Old Trafford in Manchester - dubbed as the Theatre of Dreams, home of Manchester United F.C
Wembley Stadium in London - default home stadium of the England national football team
St. James' Park in Newcastle - currently known as the Sports Direct Arena, home of Newcastle United F.C.
Millenium Stadium in Cardiff - default home staidum of the Wales national football team
2008 gold medal winners Argentina will not be present to defend their crown. nor are their opponents for that medal in Beijing, Nigeria. However, there are plenty of teams who can make a run at winning the tournament. It is important to note that since 1992 in Barcelona, teams are restricted to 18 players that are under the age of 23, but are permitted to have up to three players who are over that particular age.
There are sixteen teams that have been assigned into four groups:
Group A - Great Britain, Senegal, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay
Group B - Mexico, South Korea, Gabon, Switzerland
Group C - Brazil, Egypt, Belarus, New Zealand
Group D - Spain, Japan, Honduras, Morocco
The group stage competition will take place from July 26 to August 1. The top two teams of each group will advance to the Quarter Final matches, which are scheduled on August 4, with Groups A & B podded together and C & D podded together, meaning the winner of one group will face the runner-up of the other group. The semis takes place on August 7, with the gold to be decided on August 11 and the bronze one day earlier.
Most people have pegged Brazil and Spain as the favorites, although neither team really has had much success in this competition. The reigning World and European champions won their lone gold in 1992, when they hosted the Games, but this time, they have core of the team that won the Euro U-21 title and bolstered by a couple of players who were in the team that successfully defended the Euro championship in Poland / Ukraine. As for the 2016 Olympic hosts and 2008 bronze medalists, they are armed with arguably the best young player in the sport in Neymar. Other contenders for the gold medal include Uruguay, which will field in the controversial Luis Suarez and his teammate in Liverpool FC, Sebastian Coates. Host Great Britain will have veteran Welsh players Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy guide the likes of Ryan Bertrand and Daniel Sturridge
The United States is looking to redeem themselves after losing in a dramatic final against Japan in the Women's World Cup. Unlike their male counterparts, women's football in the Olympics do not have any age restrictions, but the limit of 18 players in a roster remains.
There are twelve teams that have been assigned into three groups:
Group E - Great Britain, New Zealand, Cameroon, Brazil
Group F - Japan, Canada, Sweden, South Africa
Group G - United States, France, Colombia, North Korea
The group stage competition takes place from July 25 to July 31. The top two teams of each group, and the two best third-place teams, advance into the Quarter Final matches, which are scheduled on August 3. The semis take place on August 6, with the battle for the gold to occur on August 9, the same day the bronze medal winner will be awarded.
Most peg the United States and Japan to resume their battle for women's supremacy. The reigning World Cup champions will have all fourteen players who won the title for them in Germany returning, and that includes the Golden Ball winner Homare Sawa. The reigning Olympic champions still have the stars that got them going, from vets like Abby Wambach, Hope Solo and Christine Rampone to the youth movement of Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe. Back-to-back Olympic silver medalists Brazil return to the Games, with Marta leading the way, while France will rely on its core of players from UEFA Champions League powerhouse Olympique Lyonnais. Host Great Britain will be relying on a core of English ladies who pushed France to the limit in the World Cup.