Held at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday, the draw for the group phases of the Olympic Football Tournaments London 2012 served up a daunting group in the women’s competition and a classic match-up in the men’s.
Gauging the reactions of the assembled dignitaries and national team coaches afterwards, FIFA.com found two common themes: maximum respect for their respective first-round opponents and a desire to go far when the tournaments finally get under way.
Drawn together in Group A of the men’s tournament, Great Britain and Uruguay will revive memories of Olympics long since past when they meet at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on 1 August. The hosts struck gold in the first two Olympic Football Tournaments in 1908 and 1912, while La Celeste won both the next two competitions to be staged, in 1924 and 1928. Completing the section are Senegal and United Arab Emirates.
Team GB have the task of fulfilling expectations on home soil, though coach Stuart Pearce believes running out in front of their own fans will lift his side: “Playing at home will give us an advantage, though I’m very busy right now looking at players. We’ve got a preliminary list of 80 and we’ll probably be announcing the team in the middle of May.”
Featuring Mexico, Korea Republic, Gabon and Switzerland, Group B appears to be the most evenly balanced of the four. “It won’t be easy, but our aim is to get to the quarter-finals,” said Pierluigi Tami, the coach of the central Europeans. “Playing at the Olympics is a unique opportunity and we want to enjoy the experience as much as we possibly can.”
Brazil and Egypt will break the ice in Group C, which also includes Belarus and New Zealand. One man eagerly looking forward to the challenge of facing the South Americans is Egypt coach Hany Ramzy: “I’m delighted to be playing against Brazil. It’s a great source of motivation for my players and I, and I hope we can put in a good performance and build up the momentum we need to reach the next round.”
Brazilian Football Association President Jose Maria Marin spoke of the pressure on the country’s exciting new generation of players and the task they face in breaking Brazil’s surprising duck in the Olympics: “We’ve tried many many times and we have yet to win the Olympic title. We have some experienced and quality players and I have every faith in them. We are going to give them the right conditions so they can work properly and win a title that has been a dream of ours for years.”
Last but not least, Spain, Japan, Honduras and Morocco will line up in Group D. Giving his view, Roja coach Luis Milla said: “We respect our three opponents because they are tough sides who will make life difficult for us. People say we’re favourites because we’re European champions, but we have to follow the very same course we took in that competition, and that means maximum respect for our rivals, humility and unity.”
Believing all four groups to be too close to call, Japan coach Takashi Sekizuka had this to say about the task of facing Spain: “It’s a great honour for us to be up against the reigning world champions. It’s going to be a very important game and something of an acid test for us.”
In the women’s competition, meanwhile, there is little question that Group G is the toughest section of the three, comprising as it does USA, the runners-up at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™, France, who finished fourth behind them, and the ever-combative Korea DPR. Completing the section are Colombia, who should know what to expect having faced both the Americans and the North Koreans at Germany 2011.
“I’m happy we missed out on that group,” said smiling Canada coach John Herdman, heaving a sigh of relief at avoiding Colombia’s fate. “It’s the group of death, though we won’t exactly have it easy ourselves as we’ll be up against the world champions. It’s going to be a big challenge and it’ll be a great chance for us to make up for our poor results in Germany. I’m optimistic because I think this team can beat anyone.”
The Canadians will begin their campaign in Group F against the Japanese before taking on Sweden and South Africa, one of the Olympic debutants. “We want to do South African women’s football proud so that it’s taken seriously,” vowed their coach Joseph Mkhonza. “We have the greatest respect for our rivals but we feel anything is possible. Our dream is to reach the second round.”
One of the most mouth-watering games of the first phase will be the Group E encounter between Great Britain and Brazil at Wembley on 31 July. “I’m pleased with the draw,” said Team GB coach Hope Powell, reflecting on a section in which her side have also been drawn with Cameroon and New Zealand. “Playing against Brazil is a great opportunity and our preparations start now. We’ve all got a chance of going through and we can’t take anyone lightly.”
The onus is now on Powell and her fellow coaches to finalise their squads in the coming weeks and then prepare their charges for the battles that lie ahead at London 2012. With gold medals on offer at the end of it all, the players will need little motivating.