With the draw made in London last week and tickets re-released for the matches on the London 2012 website, the Olympic Football Tournaments have once again been thrust into the spotlight as the excitement increases. On draw day itself, some players pursuing an Olympic dream used the media as a means to let off some steam. “I felt like it was Christmas morning,” said USA left-back Kelley O’Hara, “I woke up, grabbed my phone and checked my email and there was the Olympic Draw. It’s so nice to know what we are doing, who we are playing and where we are going. It makes it very real.”
Canada women’s goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc said that she had difficulty in sleeping before she found out her team’s fate. With world champions Japan, Sweden and South Africa waiting for them, the draw proved to be extremely special for the Canucks’ coach, John Herdman. Born and bred in the UK, he will return to his hometown of Newcastle for the final group game against the Swedes. “I stood on the Gallowgate End of St. James’ Park with my dad when I was five years old,” he smiled. “This is an amazing opportunity, a dream come true. The local lad will be leading his team out at the ground he went to as a kid to watch his favourite team. I always dreamed of leading a team out there one day. It’s brilliant.”
Yet while the coaches are fully focused on the task in hand, it is the attitude of the players which are causing the most column inches. Their excitement for the event is simmering away – even with their club seasons in full swing. Over the past 12 months, Sergio Busquets has played over 63 competitive matches, but he does not want a break this summer: “I want to go to the EURO and the Olympics,” he said. “But it does not depends on me. Both coaches are aware that is my dream. I will do anything in order to go.”
In a similar vein, Honduras and Wigan Athletic defender Maynor Figueroa is desperate to feature with his team facing Spain, Japan and Morocco in Group D. “If I have to choose between holidays and Olympics, I would go with the national team,” he smiled. “It is in my plans to go to the Olympic Games. I’m at the coach disposal and would be very proud if I was selected.” Also keen to grasp the opportunity is Figueroa’s team-mate Roger Espinoza: “If the chance comes, why not? The Olympics are just right below a World Cup. Some people see it just like a World Cup. The Olympics are amazing. The best part is that they include all of the sports around the world. It would be unbelievable to be there. If I get included in the squad, I would love to go.”
When FIFA.com gave Uruguay’s Diego Lugano three wishes for 2012, his first was a ticket to the Olympics. “What excites me most would be the chance to go to the Olympic Games, because of everything it means to the country,” he said. “It’s tough because only three overage players can go, but I genuinely have my heart set on it.” However, he faces competition from Diego Forlan, who has also spoken publically of his desire to play: “I hope to be there, but it is not up to me,” the former Manchester United forward told Uruguayan radio.
Uruguay’s South American rivals Brazil have never won the Gold Medal at the games and Thiago Silva has stated that it would be “a great honour” to be involved. “Mano knows how important this competition is and the foundations are being carefully laid,” he told FIFA.com. “The players in the [Olympic] squad make me optimistic.” One of those players is Sandro, who knows all about playing in the UK via his spell at Tottenham Hotspur.“I’ve been thinking about the Olympics for the last three years, and the time has finally come,” he said. “I want a starting place in A Seleção and to work my way into Mano’s plans for 2014.”
Staying in England, Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew has said that he will not stand in the way of Senegalese striking duo Papiss Demba Cisse and Demba Ba’s Olympic dream. “If someone offered me the opportunity to win a gold medal, I think I’d try and take it,” he said. “I’ve got no problem. I think they’ll be keen to have a rest, and probably deserve a rest after the seasons they’ve had. We’ll work around it. We’ll just give them more rest in pre-season. There’s no big deal about that.”
The make-up of Stuart Pearce’s squad is of keen interest for those planning to watch Team GB in action and a certain David Beckham is hoping that his former international team-mate, not only includes him, but makes him skipper. “Obviously I've had conversations with Stuart Pearce, but it hasn't even been decided if I will be selected,” he said. "As long as I'm fit, healthy and in form, then hopefully I'll have a chance of making the team. I'd love to be captain. I've been captain a few times for my country before and to lead them into an Olympics would be special for any player."
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