The Mens Olympic soccer competition kicks off tomorrow with group matches being played across the United Kingdom, from London to Glasgow.
Much has been discussed about the competition and its relative merits, especially in Britain where the decision to field a Great Britain team has been controversial. Usually, each individual country (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland) is represented at international level, and some wish to continue that trend. Despite some negative publicity, the Olympics is still the oldest international soccer competition, and the prospect of representing one’s country is still very appealing to the world’s best players.
Of the 16 teams involved, only four are from Europe – Great Britain, Spain, Switzerland, and Belarus. This is less surprising than one might think, because no European nation has won the competition since Spain won on home soil in 1992, with the previous 4 winners being Nigeria, Cameroon, Argentina, and Argentina again.
Here we preview the chances of the top nations:
As hosts, expectation will be high on Great Britain to perform well in these games. Manager Stuart Pearce has been controversial in his selections for the team – both by refusing to pick David Beckham as one of his 3 over-age choices and also by picking a squad mostly from England (there are a few players from Wales on the team but nobody from Scotland or Northern Ireland).
The English Football Association refused to let Pearce pick any members of England’s squad from the European Championships for the Olympics, and this certainly means they seem a bit light overall. Despite the inclusion of veterans such as Man U’s Ryan Giggs and Liverpool’s Craig Bellamy, Great Britain was trounced in their friendly against Brazil, who were able to field several stars who I will discuss in a moment.
The British squad were quick to inform the press that they will be in better shape and more ready to win once the tournament starts, but frankly I don’t believe it; the best the home team can hope for is a Bronze medal this year.
With the quality and quantity of talent available to Brazil, it is easy to see why they are favorites in this competition. They really have an embarrassment of riches on their squad, most of whom go by only one name, thereby confusing us Americans. Hulk, Alexandre Pato, Thiago Silva, Neymar, Oscar and Marcelo would all be taken by any team in the world, and the Under-20 team is just coming off a victory in their age bracket’s World Cup in 2011. That said, Brazil has never won this competition, and has failed to win any major competition for longer than they would care to remember.
Spain’s senior team is currently the World and European champions, and they are basically the gods of international soccer at this point. Luckily for the Olympic team, some of these ‘gods’ – Euro 2012 winners Jordi Alba, Javier Martinez, and Juan Mata are part of the squad.
Spain’s soccer character filters through to all levels of the game, and despite losing on penalty kicks to Brazil in the Under-20 World Cup last year, few people would bet against Spain gaining their revenge in the upcoming tournament.
The Uruguay senior team is currently dominating the world of soccer. They are the current Copa America champions, and they performed superbly at the 2012 World Cup. Although not as successful as Spain, they are certainly the top South American team at the moment.
The key to their potential success in London is the ability to transfer their success on the senior circuit to this age group, and they have certainly set themselves up to do just that. Whereas many countries have separate coaches running the Olympic and senior teams, Uruguay can call on the veteran manager responsible for all their recent success, Oscar Tabarez, in London as well. In addition to this, their strikers, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, also play for their senior team and the duo is arguably the most feared striker combination in the tournament.
In the end, soccer is a game that comes down to execution. The best team can have a bad game at the wrong time and walk away with a bronze medal or even no medal at all. It will certainly be very exciting to see what happens when the games begin tomorrow! Let me know in the comments if you think I missed a team that deserves more consideration among the contenders I mentioned. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Enjoy the games!
Michael Goldstone is a big soccer fan from West Orange, New Jersey. When not watching or writing about soccer, Michael loves to play pickup basketball games with his friends, guessing where the ball will land on the online roulette wheel, and playing with his German Shepherd, Willow.
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