Football, one of 26 sporting disciplines in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, is scheduled to be held from 26th July to 11th August at six venues spread across England, Wales and Scotland. In the men’s event, 16 teams will compete for gold, silver and bronze medals through a four member group stage, quarterfinals, semifinals, 3rd place playoff and the final. As is the norm in Olympics, each squad consists of total 18 members with a maximum of 3 players over the age of 23 allowed to be included. TheHardTackle kicks off the preview of the tournament with an in-depth look at four teams making up the Group A – Great Britain, Senegal, United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Group A Fixtures
|26th July||United Arab Emirates vs Uruguay||Old Trafford, Manchester|
|26th July||Great Britain vs Senegal||Old Trafford, Manchester|
|29th July||Senegal vs Uruguay||Wembley Stadium, London|
|29th July||Great Britain vs United Arab Emirates||Wembley Stadium, London|
|1st August||Senegal vs United Arab Emirates||City of Coventry Stadium, Coventry|
|1st August||Great Britain vs Uruguay||Millennium Stadium, Cardiff|
Performance at previous Olympics: Gold medal winners at 1908 and 1912. This is their first entry since 1960.
How they got here: Qualified as the hosts of the Games.
(Goalkeepers) Jack Butland, Jason Steele.
(Defenders) Neil Taylor, Ryan Bertrand, Steve Caulker, Craig Dawson, James Tomkins, Micah Richards*
(Midfielders) Danny Rose, Tom Cleverley, Joe Allen, Ryan Giggs (captain)*, Jack Cork, Aaron Ramsey, Scott Sinclair
(Forwards) Daniel Sturridge, Craig Bellamy*, Marvin Sordell
Manager: Stuart Pearce
*denotes over-age players
Team profile: Undoubtedly the most high profile team in the tournament, not least because of the host status, Great Britain’s participation in competition has multiple layers of sub-plot attached to it. Ever since it was decided that Great Britain will be entering a team in the competition, there have been murmurs of protest from the football associations of the home nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The point of their contention rested on the issue of independence of their football teams in future international tournaments if they agreed to a unified team playing under the flag of Great Britain. Finally, FIFA had to step in and assure the respective football associations that their independence will not be affected by their participation in Team Great Britain.
Most of the players from the Home Nations though, have from the very beginning displayed great enthusiasm in playing for the unified team. Incidentally, the final squad selected by Stuart Pearce, assistant manager to England boss Roy Hodgson, has players from England and Wales only with Scotland and Northern Ireland’s representation conspicuous by its absence. Pearce’s refusal to select media darling David Beckham, as one of the over aged players, raised quite a few eyebrows as well. But by selecting Micah Richards instead to bolster his defense, Pearce has sent out a clear message that medal counts over sentimentality.
It will be wrong to presume though that the selection is completely bereft of any sentimental considerations. Beckham’s former Manchester United teammate, Ryan Giggs has been named to captain the team at the grand old age of 38. This will be the first time Giggs gets to play in an international tournament after suffering years of qualification heartbreak with Wales. His compatriot Craig Bellamy, the firebrand forward, is the third over-age player in the squad.
The rest of the squad consists of a number of promising youngsters such as Butland in goal, Cleverley and Ramsey in middle of the park and Sturridge in attack. To most of these youngsters, the competition provides an excellent learning platform and taste of tournament football besides the opportunity to win that rarest of rare sporting commodity, an Olympic medal.
Key players: Ryan Giggs, Aaron Ramsey, Tom Cleverley, Daniel Sturridge.
THT prediction: Should be able to qualify with something to spare from the group. Need to be at the top of their game to win a medal of any sorts.
Performance at previous Olympics: No previous appearances.
How they got here: Senegal became the last of the 16 teams to qualify for the Games when they beat Oman 2-0 in a playoff on 23rd April, 2012. Prior to that, they had finished fourth in the 2011 CAF U-23 Championship which served as African qualifier for the Olympics.
(Goalkeepers) Ousmane Mané, Papa Camara
(Defenders) Saliou Cisse, Victor Bindia, Abdoulaye Ba, Papa Gueye*, Zargo Touré, Kara Mbodj, Papa Souare
(Midfielders) Cheikhou Kouyaté, Sadio Mané, Mohamed Diamé*, Idrissa Gueye, Stéphane Badji (captain)
(Forwards) Moussa Konaté, Dame N’Doye*, Ibrahima Baldé, Magaye Gueye.
Manager: Abdoukarime Diouf
*denotes over-age players
Team profile: This tournament is the second occasion when the Lions of Teranga will participate in an international football tournament outside the Cup of African Nations. Their first appearance in 2002 World Cup was a remarkable success story when the country became only the second African nation to get to the quarterfinals, upsetting a number of apple carts in the way. Since then though, the Lions have rarely matched the performances of those heady days of 2002. Hence the levels of expectation from the team in the Olympics are understandably low.
The squad has been further crippled by Newcastle United’s steadfast refusal to allow participation of the lethal striking duo of Demba Ba and Papiss Cissé. Instead Senegal have to make do with Dame N’Doye of Copenhagen leading the line at the Olympics. N’Doye has been a prolific goal-scorer in the Danish League over the past three seasons and will be looking to impress his list of suitors, newly promoted Premier League outfit Reading being one of them.
Mohamed Diame, an established Premier League star, will add steel to the midfield while Everton youngster Magaye Gueye will bring attacking flair to the side. The defense is anchored by the experienced Papa Gueye of Metalist Kharkiv, whereas Anderlecht’s Cheikhou Kouyaté is one of the more exciting young defensive prospects in Europe. The performances in the friendly fixtures leading up to the tournament have been impressive, with the young Lions registering eye-catching victories over their Spanish and Swiss counterparts. Whether they can continue their winning streak in the tournament remains to be seen.
Key players: Dame N’Doye, Mohamed Diame, Cheikhou Kouyaté.
THT prediction: Given the quality of opposition, chances of making it out of the group stages look slim. How slim? As slim as it looked before the 2002 World Cup!
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Performance at the previous Olympics: No previous appearances.
How they got here: UAE are one of the surprise qualifiers for the Games, having topped a group consisting of Asian footballing heavyweights like Australia, Iraq and Uzbekistan in AFC’s Pre-Olympic Tournament.
(Goalkeepers) Ali Khaseif*, Khalid Eisa
(Defenders) Saad Surour, Abdulaziz Hussain, Mohamed Ahmad, Ali Amari, Hamdan Al Kamali, Ahmed Khalil, Abdelaziz Sanquor
(Midfielders) Amer Abdulrahman, Ismail Al Hammadi*, Habib Fardan, Khamis Esmaeel, Omar Abdulrahman, Rashed Eisa, Mohamed Fawzi
(Forwards) Ahmed Ali, Ismaeil Matar (captain)*
Manager: Redha Mahdi Ali
*denotes over-age players
Team profile: Even though UAE have only appeared once in the World Cup previously (in 1990) and are generally not considered as one of the powerhouses of Asian football, their performances at the Olympic qualifiers will not come as a complete shock to those following their youth team’s fortunes in the recent years. Under the able guidance of veteran coach Rehda Mahdi Ali, the team has impressed in the 2008 AFC U-19 Championship, 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup and 2010 Asian Games.
At the Olympics, the team will be led by the legendary striker Ismaeil Matar, considered by many as best footballer the country has ever produced. In the young brigade there are two hugely promising stars in Ahmed Khalil (voted 2008 Asian Young Footballer of the Year) and Ahmed Ali. The only member of the squad to ply his trade outside the country is Lyons’ Hamdan Al Kamali. Overall the squad, which has a good blend of rising stars like Khalil and senior professionals Matar, will look to build on their recent successes in international football with an upset or two against their more vaunted opponents at the Olympics.
Key Players: Ismaeil Matar, Ahmed Khalil, Hamdan Al Kamali
THT Prediction: Should give Senegal stiff competition for 3rd place in the group.
Performance at the previous Olympics: Gold medal winners in 1924 and 1928, which incidentally was also their last appearance at the Games.
How they got here: Uruguay qualified for the Games by finishing second to Brazil in 2011 South American Youth Championship.
(Goalkeepers) Martin Campaña, Leandro Gelpi
(Defenders) Ramón Arias, Diego Polenta, Sebastian Coátes, Emiliano Albín, Germán Rolín, Matías Aguirregaray
(Midfielders) Maximiliano Calzada, Gastón Ramírez, Jonathan Urretaviscaya, Nicolás Lodeiro, Diego Rodriguez, Egidio Arévalo*
(Forwards) Edison Cavani*, Luis Suárez (captain)*, Abel Hernández, Tabaré Viudez.
Manager: Óscar Tabárez
*denotes over-age players
Team profile: The fact that the team is being led by the national team boss Óscar Tabárez and consists of two-third of the strike force that fired them to World Cup semifinals two years back, leaves very little room for doubting the importance being attached to this tournament by Uruguay. Indeed, on paper, Uruguay boast one of the strongest squads among the sixteen teams competing.
With the controversial yet gifted Luis Suárez and the prolific Edison Cavani leading the line, hitting the back of net should not be a problem for the La Celeste. And if having two of the most explosive strikers in world is not enough, Palermo’s enterprising forward Abel Hernández is added to the fray for good measure. His Palermo teammate Egidio Arévalo, the third over-age player in the squad, will add teeth to the midfield, whereas Bologna winger Gastón Ramírez, linked to Liverpool in recent weeks, should pose a handful for opposition full backs.
Tabárez’s top heavy approach while selecting the squad that reflected in the presence of both Suárez and Cavani in the squad has left the team with a lack of experience at the back. This, even though it gels well with the free flowing attacking style favoured by Tabárez, may prove to be an Achilles’ heel, especially against quality opposition in the later stages. Among the defenders, who have been selected, the onus will be on Sebatian Coátes of Liverpool and Genoa’s Diego Polenta to lead and marshal a callow defense.
Key Players: Edison Cavani, Luis Suárez, Gastón Ramírez.
THT Prediction: A genuine medal contender. If the defense can hold, may well pip Brazil and Spain to the gold.