6 August 2008 :Even before the Games of the XXIX Olympiad are declared officially open at 8.08p.m. on 08.08.2008 the footballers will have kicked off today in one of three stadiums in Beijing and four more around China. Ronaldinho, twice FIFA World Player of the Year, will light up the men’s tournament with Brazil, but the women are the first to go, and the USA will be looking to defend their title.
The task will be that much tougher without star striker Abby Wambach, the scorer of the winning goal in the final against Brazil four years ago, who broke her leg in the team’s last warm-up match for these Games, ironically against Brazil. Norway, who beat the US in the final four years earlier in Sydney, will again feature prominently, while a repeat of the first women’s final in 1996 between the US and China would be popular – as long as China can reverse their 2-1 defeat.
Eastern European success
Men’s football at the Games goes back much further than 1996, all the way to the second Olympic Games in 1900. Like all Olympic sports, for many years it was open only to amateurs, and eastern Eurpean countries enjoyed great success. The 1950s were a particularly golden period, and Hungary, starring Ferenc Puskas, and the Soviet Union, with Lev Yashin in goal, were both victorious. Later on Poland, with several members of the team that finished third at the 1974 World Cup, won Olympic gold in 1972 and silver four years later.
Nowadays the men’s teams essentially comprise players under 23 years of age, with three over-age players per team allowed. This system has been to the liking of African nations, with Nigeria, led by Nwankwo Kanu, and Cameroon, featuring Barcelona’s Samuel Eto’o, winning in 1996 and 2000 respectively. Now it is up to Ronaldinho and Co to follow in their footsteps.
Argentina defending champions
Brazil, coached by 1994 World Cup-winning skipper Dunga, will be favourites to win for the first time. Apart from Ronaldinho, they will be able to call on the likes of AC Milan’s 18-year-old phenomenon Alexandre Pato and Manchester United’s Anderson. Argentina, the defending champions, can look to Boca Juniors midfielder Juan Riquelme, Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano and Inter Milan defender Nicolas Burdisso.