Amidst the chaos of transfer window, Olympic 2012 football tournament will kick-off in the birthplace of modern football. This year’s tournament can revive the interest of football community in Olympics, thanks to a stellar cast of top players.
Olympics 2012 has the potential to become one of eagerly awaited Olympic football tournaments in decades. A number of factors can contribute to its hype – a star studded Brazil squad, unified Great Britain playing in front of home crowd, youthful Uruguay, the South American champions and vibrant Spanish team and a clutch of unknown yet surprising teams. Despite the absence of defending champions Argentina, Italy and Germany, Olympics 2012 will witness a number of world class super-stars.
What can you say about a striker who has scored 100 goals for his club by the time he turned 20? Next Pele? Well, maybe. There have been a number of players who has been dubbed as the next Pele but few attained worldwide fame at such a young age as Neymar has. The Santos striker has been in blazing form this season and has been linked with several high profile European clubs. Neymar was one of the key figures as Santos grabbed their third Copa Libertadores title in 2011 as he finished the tournament as joint second top-scorer with 6 goals. He also opened Santos’ scoring in the home leg of final as the Peixe defeated Penarol 2-1. Neymar was in good form this season as well – notching up 13 goals in league and scoring 8 times in Copa Libertadores 2012, finishing as top scorer. Neymar was unstoppable in group stages of Copa as he scored a hat-trick against Brazilian rivals Internacional. He also struck a brilliant brace against Bolivar in Round of 16 as Santos romped to a 8-0 home win.
Despite his incredible goal scoring record in club level, Neymar’s form for Brazil has been mixed. He did score on his Selecao debut but he failed to prevent Brazil from going out unceremoniously from Copa America 2011. The Brazilian football fanatics are hungry for success after seeing their team crash out of two ordinary World Cups in 2006 and 2010 and last Copa America. Brazil’s last international success came in lightly regarded Confederations Cup, though they had to claw back from 2-0 down to beat USA. Being the hosts for 2014 World Cup, Brazil will not be playing qualification matches; so coach Mano Menzes has taken Olympics very seriously and selected an extremely strong team. A gold medal in Olympics is the only thing missing from Brazil’s illustrious trophy cabinet and Neymar is likely to be one of the main protagonists if they are to end the drought.
Luis Suarez (Uruguay)
Controversial yet talented, the former Ajax striker has been a cornerstone of Uruguay’s rise to the top in past few years. Suarez had a particularly stormy season in Liverpool, which was marked by off-field controversies and an over the top negative media outburst. His form suddenly took a hit, as did Liverpool’s - as he finished the season with just 11 goals. Suarez did have better times with his national team in Copa America. With Diego Forlan struggling to fire in group stage games, Luis Suarez was one of their main players as Uruguay snapped and snarled their way to knock out stages. Once they reached the KO stages, there was no stopping for the former world champions as Uruguay captured a record 19th continental title. Suarez was in spectacular form as he scored 2 goals against Peru in semi-final and followed it up with another goal in the final.
Uruguay will be encouraged by Suarez’s form as Olympics come closer. Recently he scored a hat-trick as Uruguay came back from 2-0 down to defeat Chile 6-4. Along with Napoli hitman Edinson Cavani, Suarez can strike up one of the most potent forward lines in the tournament. Uruguay was the first South American nation to win an Olympic gold medal in football, in 1924, following it up with another in 1928. They will be one of the favourites for the title in 2012 as well.
Micah Richards (England)
Over last four years a lot of things have changed in Manchester City. Generous investments from rich owners have seen the Blue side of Manchester become English champions from mid-table mediocrity. City fans have seen players whom they could only dream to see play in their clubs sky blue shirt. Despite all these changes one thing has remained relatively unchanged – position of Micah Richards.
Richards is an anomaly in the multi-national Manchester City squad. He joined Manchester City as a 14 year old youngster and has been a part of the club though their ups and downs. Over the years Richards has steadily improved to be one of the best full-backs in England and his position rarely came under threat despite City spending millions to build a star studded squad. Richards missed out on Euro 2012 squad and he will be looking to make amends in Olympics.
Mohamed Aboutrika (Egypt)
Once described by journalist Gabriel Marcotti as “arguably the best footballer on Earth not plying his trade in Europe or South America” Aboutrika will be having his last shot at Olympic glory in London. The 33 year old striker will be one of the oldest and most experienced players in Olympics 2012 but few would have expected him to be in this tournament in first place. The former African footballer of the year announced his retirement following the horrific clash between rival fans at the Port Said Stadium in early 2012, before calling it off.
Egyptian football has taken a nosedive due to internal strife in the country. The Pharaohs captured a hat-trick of AFCON titles in last half decade but shockingly failed to qualify for the 2012 version. An encouraging performance in Olympics is sure to bring some much needed cheer in the country and Aboutrika is the best candidate to play the role of an inspirational captain.
Iker Muniain (Spain)
Spain’s dominance in International football is past half decade is unmatched and unprecedented. After becoming the first team in history to win a hat-trick of international titles, along with World Cup, the La Furia Roja will look to capture Olympic gold as well. If Spain win gold it will be another new record as no team has ever held World Cup, Euro and Olympic Gold at the same time. Silverware has continued to flow for Spain as their U19 team captured the Euro U19 few days after the senior team won Euro and a triumph in Olympics will wrap up a perfect summer for them.
Incomparable success in grass-roots level ensures that the Spanish Olympics team is filled with prodigious talents. In a group of players who can very well become world class in coming years, Iker Muniain stands apart. Hailing from Athletic Bilbao’s famous youth system, Muniain entered the record books in 2009 when he scored against Swiss club Young Boys in a 2-1 away win, becoming the youngest goal scorer in Athletic’s illustrious history. Three months later he set another record when he scored against Valladolid in La Liga, becoming youngest player to score in Spanish top flight – at the age of 16 years and 289 days.
Still just 19, Muniain has already chalked up close to 100 matches for Athletic senior team and his talents were further honed under Marcelo Bielsa last season. He was also a central figure in Spain U21 team’s triumph in Euro U21 which earned them a place in Olympics 2012. Yet to become a regular in senior team, Olympics might be the tournament which sees this youngster stake a stronger claim to play for the European champions.