Women's football has an Olympic discipline since 1996. Since then, stars like Mia Hamm, Ann Kristin Aarones and Sun Wen have shone and brought the fans flocking to the stadiums.

BY MARIUS SCHNEIDER

After Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000, the third Women's Olympic Football Tournament will take place in Athens. This tournament is akin to a women's masters tournament, with the FIFA Women's World Cup acting as the Olympic qualifying tournament for most confederations. While an age restriction was in place for the first two tournaments (Ed: players had to be at least 16 years of age), this will not be the case in Athens. The 2004 tournament will be the first to feature ten teams, rising to 12 in Peking 2008. Since 1999, 16 teams have been doing battle for glory in the FIFA Women's World Cup.

To date, 12 countries have graced the Olympic Women's Football Tournament, with five ever-presents, Germany, Sweden, China PR, USA and Brazil.  For the first time, defending champions Norway failed to qualify and will therefore be one of the tournament's notable absentees.

Mexican, greek debuts
Despite playing in the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup, Mexico will be making their Olympic debut, as will the hosts, an unknown quantity in international women's football. To date, Nigeria are the only Africans to have graced the Olympic stage (2000/2004). The balance of power is also clear in South America, with Brazil as ever-presents, as well as in Oceania, with Australia having qualified in 2000 and 2004.

Norway and the USA are the only countries to claim a medal on each of their Olympic appearances (in 1996 and 2000).

Similarly, Norway, Brazil and the USA are the only countries to have always reached the semi-finals at least, while the USA have appeared in the final twice.

However, the US women are the only ones to have won a medal at every FIFA Women's World Cup and Women's Olympic Football Tournament. In 1999, they held both titles simultaneously.

If statistics are to be believed, reigning world champions Germany are likely to have their work cut out, as world champions have never been able to follow their success by claiming Olympic gold. In 1996, Norway won the bronze medal, while the USA were defeated in the final in 2000.

The record attendance for an Olympic women's football match is unlikely to be broken. In 1996, over 76,000 fans witnessed the USA's triumph in the final over China PR at the Sanford stadium in Athens, Georgia.

Matches, players, victories, goal

o No team has ever won all of its matches at an Olympic Women's Football Tournament. However, Denmark and Japan (1996), as well as Nigeria in 2000, lost all of their games.

o Two matches have been decided by the now defunct 'golden goal' rule. On both occasions, the two teams involved were the USA and Norway. In the 1996 semi-final, the USA gained the upper hand thanks to Shannon MacMillan's goal, while four years later, Dagny Mellgren's goal secured the gold medal for Norway.

o The 1996 match between China PR and Denmark saw the most goals (5-1). China's five goals in that match is still the record number of goals scored by a team in a single match. China share the biggest winning margin with Norway, who triumphed 4-0 over Japan in 1996.

o All four of the players who have scored four goals (Linda Medalen (NOR), Ann Kristin Aarones (NOR), Pretinha (BRA) and Sun Wen (CHN)) will be missing from the action in Athens. Germany's Birgit Prinz, the top scorer at the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2003, currently has three Olympic goals to her name and could take the lead in Athens.

o In 1996, Germany's Pia Wunderlich scored the fastest goal in an Olympic Women's Football Tournament, finding the net in the first minute of the match against Brazil.

o The youngest goalscorers are Pretinha and Germany's Ariane Hingst, who were both 21 years, two months old when they scored in 1996. In the same tournament, Sweden's Lena Videkull scored aged 33 years, seven months.

o Brazilian goalkeeper Meg was over 40 years old when she played in the 1996 third place play-off, and holds the record of the oldest player in the Women's Olympic Football Tournament. Her compatriot Daniela is the youngest ever player, having made her debut at the tender age of 16 years, eight months in 2000. Now that FIFA's minimum age requirement is no longer in place, Daniela's record could soon be broken.

o The oldest medal winner is Norway's Heidi Störe (33 years, one month in 1996), while Cyndi Parlow of the USA was only 18 years, one month old in 1996.

o A number of USA players - including Brandi Chastain, Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy - will be hoping to win their third Olympic gold medal in August 2004.