Draw sets exciting scene

Twenty-eight sides discovered the hurdles they will have to overcome to reach the second round in this year's Olympic Football Tournaments when the official draw took place today in Beijing, the capital of China PR. The line-up for the group stage of the global competition, which will be staged in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenyang and Qinhuangdao from 6 to 23 August, threw up pairings that are interesting and exciting in equal measure.

On the men's side hosts China, who will appear in only their second Olympic Football Tournament, will play group matches in Shenyang against New Zealand, Belgium and Brazil, who are eager to win their first Olympic gold medal. Defending champions Argentina will have to go through Australia, and a pair of first-timers, Côte d'Ivoire and Serbia. In Group B, former champions Nigeria lock horns with the Netherlands, Japan and USA. Group D features two former gold winners, Italy and Cameroon, with both Korea Republic and Honduras more than capable of causing an upset.

Men's Draw results
Group A (Shanghai): Côte d'Ivoire, Argentina, Australia, Serbia
Group B (Tianjin): Netherlands, Nigeria, Japan, USA
Group C (Shenyang): China, New Zealand, Brazil, Belgium
Group D (Qinhuangdao): Korea Republic, Cameroon, Honduras, Italy

Onn the women's side of things, China were grouped with Sweden and Canada, who knocked them out in the quarter-finals of the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2003, while defending champions USA have been drawn together with 2000 Olympic champions Norway, alongside emerging Asian powers Japan and New Zealand. Two-time world champions Germany will not have it easy, either, with Korea DPR and Brazil set to test them.

Women's Draw results
Group E (Tianjin): China, Sweden, Argentina, Canada
Group F (Shenyang): Korea DPR, Nigeria, Germany, Brazil
Group G (Qianhuangdao): Norway, USA, Japan, New Zealand

With the memory of the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007 still fresh in mind, the forthcoming Olympic football tournament will provide the host nation with another chance to showcase their pedigree in organisation and hospitality. The official draw, unsurprisingly, drew extensive attention and interest at home and abroad, with around 200 media representatives flocking to the Beijing's Regent Hotel, the venue for the draw.

The ceremony marked a grand meeting of footballing celebrities from across the world, with the FIFA delegation and representatives of the participating teams present. Those gracing the occasion included FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter, Chinese Minister of the General Administration of Sport Liu Peng, FIFA vice-president Chung Mong-joon, BOCOG's Executive Vice-President Yang Shu'an, FIFA General Secretary Jérôme Valcke and Chinese Football Association vice-president and general secretary Xie Ya Long.

A traditional drum-dance performed by a group of female artists kick-started the ceremony, before Dr. Mong Joon Chung gave the opening speech. He expresed belief that the 2008 Olympic Football Tournament, Asia's first since Seoul 1988, will be a grand event when it returns to the country where football is said to have originated. "Six billion people across the world are eagerly awaiting the Olympics," he said. "We believe the tournament will be a great one as football returns to its birthplace."

Taking the stage next was Mr. Liu Peng, who extended the hosts' warmth and hospitality to guests from across the globe. "Firstly, congratulations to all the 28 teams for qualifying for this event", he said. "This Olympic tournament marks the 100-year anniversary of football becoming a part of the Olympics and we believe we will stage a great tournament this time."

Total commitment
A speech by FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter followed. He thanked the the hosts for their efforts and expects the tournament to be one of the most successful in history. "We thank the hosts for their hospitality and reception", he said. "And we believe the tournament in August will witness the commitment of the people not only in Beijing, but throughout the five venue cities."

FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke conducted the draws as the fans looked on in earnest to see whom their respective teams would be grouped with. Providing assistance during the process were a selected group representing the Chinese footballing fraternity, with Nian Weisi and Wang Junsheng, both former bosses of Chinese Football Association, leading the likes of Ma Yuanan, Shen Xiangfu, Gao Hongbo and Liu Ailing, the former star of the Chinese women's team.

The ceremony ended as it began, with an artistic performance which was characterised by the country's traditional culture. The closing dancing show was named 'Dream of DunHuang', a place renowned for linking the ancient China to the rest of the world for the world-famous Silk Road. With this the hosts showed the watching world their promise of hosting a great Olympic football tournament as well as their warm welcome to all those who will be present at the world's showpiece in August.