The official draws for the Men's and Women's Olympic Football Tournaments will take place at 19:00 local time in Beijing on Sunday, exactly 110 days before this year's Olympic Games get underway. There, 16 men's and 12 women's sides will discover whom they will face in their first-phase groups at the showpiece event, which will be staged in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Qinhuangdao and Shenyang from 6 to 23 August.
The women's competition will be the biggest in history following a two-team increase to the field. The identity of the final qualifier was revealed today, with Brazil beating Ghana at the Beijing Workers' Stadium in a play-off for the 12th place among the elite.
FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke will conduct the draw at the Regent Beijing Hotel, where he will be accompanied by FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter. Also present will be Liu Peng, the Chinese Minister for the General Administration of Sport, FIFA vice-president Dr Chung Mong-Joon, BOCOG's executive vice-president Yang Shu'an, and Chinese Football Association vice-president and general secretary Xie Ya Long.
Former champions eye repeat
The 16 men's sides will be split into four pools, with the top two in each progressing to the quarter-finals. And despite the pressure of leading the host nation, China PR coach Ratomir Dujkovic was in optimistic mood. "If China are drawn against my country in the same group and both teams progress to the final, I think the hosts will win," said the Serbian.
Serbia, the surprise packages in the European qualifiers, will make their Olympic bow along with Côte d'Ivoire and New Zealand. Holders Argentina will be hoping to retain the title, while the other four former winners, namely Belgium (1920), Italy (1936), Nigeria (1996) and Cameroon (2000), will be eager to repeat their feats.
Albiceleste coach Sergio Batista, who will have an impressive cast of players at his disposal, already has his eye on gold. "The most important thing will be to finish assembling a squad that's capable of putting our theoretical advantage into practice and repeat the medal won in Athens," he said.
Elsewhere, a trio of frequent qualifiers, Australia, Japan and Korea Republic will represent the AFC, while USA and Honduras account for CONCACAF. Three-time bronze-medalists Netherlands will be looking to record their best-ever finish, and Dunga's Brazil will be desperate to add the only men's title that has eluded them to their stunning collection, which includes an unparalleled five FIFA World Cup™ crowns.
Women's event wide open
The women's tournament appears to be wide open with hosts China, two-time Olympic champions USA, FIFA Women's World Cup holders winners Germany, and former Olympic champions Norway among the favourites. Sweden, Japan and Nigeria, who have all performed on the Olympic stage before, will be confident of a good run at Beijing 2008, while a quartet of debutants, namely, Argentina, Korea DPR, Canada and New Zealand, will all be hoping for a kind draw on Sunday.
These 11 qualifiers, along with the play-off winners Brazil, will be divided into three groups of four, with the top two finishers and the two best third-placed teams advancing to the last eight.
China coach Shang Ruihua believes there is no such thing as a favourable draw nowadays. "The women's game has been improving fast across the world over the past decade so you can hardly say which teams are tough or easy opponents," the 63-year-old told FIFA.com. "We don't choose teams to play against but we will do our utmost to progress."
"USA and Germany are the undisputed favorites to win the tournament, but teams like Brazil also showed their potential in last year Women's World Cup. Our team is in the rebuilding process so we will try and achieve a good result," concluded the experienced tactician.