The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games kick off in a month, with the 2008 Olympic football tournament from 6th to 24th August.
For these games, the men will compete in a 16-team tournament (7th to 24th August) (the women will compete in a 12-team tournament – 6th to 21st August) with four groups of four teams each with the top two in each group progressing to the knockout stages.
Full national teams ceased to compete in the four-yearly competition in 1930 when the first World Cup was played in Uruguay. Since then, youth teams have competed in the men’s tournament and despite with the absence of senior players (men’s teams are allowed to augment their squad with three players over the age of 23) the tournament has proved to be quite entertaining over the years.
Here are the teams:
Ivory Coast – Have the energy and talent to upset the bigger sides in this group and if they can defend in shape and maintain their tactical discipline then they may well qualify from this group.
Argentina – One of the strongest teams in the world and a veritable production line of footballing talent going from Argentina to Europe. Experienced and supremely talented and led by the indomitable Riquelme, Argentina are many people’s pick to defend their Olympic good won 4 years ago.
Australia – One of the weaker teams in the competition and the squad picked shows a real lack of experience at the Under-23 level. In the toughest group and unlikely to progress.
Serbia – Did quite well at the U-21 Euros and have a talented and disciplined youth team that should qualify for the knockout stages as long as they overcome the Ivory Coast.
Netherlands – Consecutive U21 Euro champions and perhaps the strongest team from Europe playing here. Tipped to win the Olympics this year but for my money are on an equal footing with Brazil and Argentina.
Nigeria A decent outfit but without the talent that the national team has at senior level. It remains to be seen who they pick for the tournament as their overage players but they’ll need to be at their best to progress from this group.
Japan – On paper look to be the weakest team of the group but have traditionally been strong on teamwork and if they can keep their discipline against the likes of Nigeria and USA, they have an outside chance of reaching the knockout stages.
USA – The Olympics are an excellent chance for the US to prove that their youth development is not as pathetic and downtrodded as critics claim it to be. They have the raw talent and if they can harness it, a spot in the knockout stages awaits.
China – The hosts are in a tough group – no one expects to beat Brazil and China will have Belgium to contend with as well. They’re on par with New Zealand but could use the occasion and national pride to spring a surprise.
New Zealand – Without Australia to contend with, New Zealand had an easy path to qualification for the Olympics but will have to fight for respect or suffer a drubbing at the hands of Brazil and Belgium.
Brazil – They’ve selected a talented and experienced squad and should top this group easily.
Belgium Have a good youth program and based on skill-level alone are a superior side to China or NZ. Don’t see them getting a medal but they could give Brazil a run for their money in this group.
Korea Republic – Wildcards in this group – have the potential to qualify and are physically fit enough to deal with Cameroon’s challenge as well. Should be an interesting contest.
Cameroon – Along with Korea they will be aiming to get a win over Italy and cause an upset. It might come down to the overage players they pick because at the U-23 level they’re not that strong.
Honduras – Unlike New Zealand who had Oceania to themselves, Honduras had to finish ahead of Mexico to qualify for the Olympics. However, they lack the firepower to challenge any of their rivals in this group.
Italy – Italy beat Portugal in a play-off to get here, and have an excellent squad based almost entirely in Italy (the exception being Rossi at Villareal). They have the talent to top their group but their lack of experience could count against them in the later stages of the tournament.