The Olympic Games got underway yesterday, with women’s football the opening event of London 2012.
Team GB did the host nation proud with a 1-0 win over New Zealand, whilst Japan, North Korea, USA, Sweden and Brazil also got off the mark with victories in their respective groups.
It’s the men’s football that has got people excited, however, with Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico, Spain and the hosts Great Britain the five teams to look out for.
Honduras v Morocco have kicked-off proceedings today, but ahead of the big matches to come over the next fortnight, GMF breaks down each of the four groups and picks out the players to watch…
The hosts take their place in Group A, competing in the football event for the first time since 1960. Manchester United winger Ryan Giggs is captain, with Craig Bellamy and Micah Richards the other over-age players. Reaching the quarter-finals will be a minimum requirement for Stuart Pearce’s side, even without David Beckham.
Uruguay will hold the toughest test for GB, and are legitimate contenders for the Gold with the likes of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez in their line-up. Bologna star Gaston Ramirez is another player to look out for.
Senegal reached this stage with a play-off victory over Oman, and will be looking to spoil the party at Old Trafford when they play the hosts tonight, whilst any positive results for UAE would be a major surprise.
Mexico are the favourites to win Group B, but with 17 of the 18-man squad based in their homeland domestically, they are something of an unknown quantity. Spurs striker Giovani Dos Santos is the stand-out name, whilst midfielder Marco Fabian has 14 goals in 13 games at U23 level, including the winner in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Team GB last week.
Arsenal striker Park Chu-Young is the main hope for South Korea, and is the most experienced member of the side. Sunderland star Ji Dong-Won is also in the side, whilst Celtic midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng will look to provide the creative spark.
Switzerland have reached the main stage of the competition for the first time since 1928, and will be hoping their young players will over-perform, whilst Gabon are struggling to make up the numbers after some of their players were refused the chance to join-up with the squad by their parent clubs. They did stun Senegal to qualify, however.
Brazil are the team that everyone wants to see this summer, with Neymar, Lucas Moura, Ganso, Oscar and many more on show for the Samba starlets. Over-age striker Hulk might hold the key though, as the Selecao look to go all the way for the first time in their history.
New Zealand will fancy their chances of qualifying for the quarter-finals, with West Brom striker Chris Wood leading the line and QPR defender Ryan Nelsen adding experience at the back. The All Whites were knocked out in the group stage four years ago.
Having lost 4-2 to the UAE less than a year ago, Belarus aren’t expected to do much damage in their first Olympic event, whilst Egypt are unlikely to replicate former glories with their side.
World and European Champions Spain are the stand-out team in the final group, with Jordi Alba and Juan Mata both dropping into the U23 team after scoring in the Euro 2012 final less than a month ago. David De Gea, Javi Martinez, Iker Muniain and Cristian Tello are the other big names to keep an eye on.
Japan’s women might be World Cup winners, but the men stand a much lesser chance than their female counterparts. Kensuke Nagai is the player to watch and he will have to play well if this team is to reach the quarter-finals.
With second spot up for grabs, Morocco will believe they can take it, with players from a host of European clubs swelling their ranks. Victory against Honduras, who have Wigan defender Maynor Figueroa in the ranks, will be an essential starting point.