The 2004 Olympic Football Tournaments are due to be staged in Athens from 11 to 28 August. We look back on 96 years of men's football at the Olympic Games with some fascinating facts and figures.
BY MARIUS SCHNEIDER
The Men's Olympic Football Tournament will be held for the 21st time at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Apart from the Olympic Games of 1932, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and FIFA were at loggerheads over amateur stipulations, a football tournament has been organised by FIFA ever since the first one took place in 1908.
A total of 79 associations have so far taken part in the Men's Olympic Football Tournament. For many, this event was practically the only FIFA competition in their history. The Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, participated in 1924 but have not managed a comeback in a FIFA competition since regaining independence in the early 1990s. India were a permanent feature between 1948 and 1960, whereas the Netherlands Antilles and Afghanistan first appeared in 1952 and Indonesia in 1956.
The final tournament in FR Germany in 1972 featured two teams that had never appeared before and have not done so since: Burma (now Myanmar) beat Sudan 2-0 and, although they lost by a hair to Mexico and the USSR, they earned the consolation prize of a balanced goal average. Venezuela made their first appearance at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.
Hungry for success
The record holders for appearances at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament are the Italians, who have won only one of the thirteen tournaments, namely in 1936. Hungary is the most successful country in the history of the Olympic Football Tournament, with three gold medals (in 1952, 1964, 1968) and one silver and one bronze in 1972 and 1960 respectively. However, the tragic consequences of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 brought their spate of wins over a period of twenty years to an abrupt end.
Three countries have won the tournament twice: both Great Britain (in 1908, 1912) and Uruguay (in 1924, 1928) defended their championship title successfully; the USSR won in 1956 and 1988.
Denmark and Yugoslavia have often ranked second, having to content themselves three times with the silver medal. The Netherlands and the USSR managed to pocket bronze three times.
At the second tournament in 1912, the same three teams stood on the podium as four years previously, and in the same order: Great Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands.
In contrast to the FIFA World Cup™, it is the Europeans who have ruled the roost in the Men's Olympic Football Tournaments. Of the twenty competitions, sixteen have been won by representatives of the Old World.
Brazil's missing title
|Brazil (Ronaldo, no. 18, pictured v. Nigeria in 1996) have never won an Olympic Football Tournament.|
The Olympic Football Tournament is the only FIFA competition that Brazil have not yet won. In ten attempts, they have won silver (in 1984, 1988) and one bronze (in 1996). The next attempt will be in Peking in 2008, as, to everyone's surprise, Brazil were knocked out en route to Athens.
Africa's star began to rise at the Olympic tournament to widespread acclaim after the new ruling on the age limit in 1992, just as they were notching up one triumph after another in FIFA youth competitions. In 1996, Nigeria downed Argentina in the final and, in 2000, Cameroon gained the upper hand in the final against Spain. Cameroon's victory has so far been the only instance of victory after penalty kicks.
The hosts have won only three times at the Olympic Football Tournaments: Great Britain (in 1908), Belgium (in 1920) and Spain (in 1992). Fate was cruel to the hosts of the last two tournaments. The USA were knocked out early on in 1996 and Australia even ended up at the bottom of the group in 2000.
The Belgians scooped victory virtually unchallenged in 1920 when Czechoslovakia stormed off after thirty minutes in protest at an allegedly biased referee. Czechoslovakia remains the only team to this day that has been disqualified at an Olympic Football Tournament.
Only in 1928 was a replay held to decide the winners of the gold medal. When Uruguay drew 1-1 with Argentina after extra time, another match was arranged three days later, which Uruguay wrapped up 2-1.
The record attendance for an Olympic football match is 105,000 for the play-off for third place between Mexico and Japan at the Azteca Stadium, Mexico City, in 1968. The 2000 final at Stadium Australia in Sydney with 104,000 fans comes a close second.