Ever since China and Japan became Asia's debutants in the Men's Olympic Football Tournament proper in 1936, Asian teams have never taken part in the final of the competition.
The closest they got was third, when Japan won the bronze medal in 1968 with the legendary Kunishige Kamamoto scoring seven goals, including a brace against hosts Mexico in the play-off. Since then, however, no Asian side has been able to match that achievement, with Australia (then representing Oceania) and Iraq only finishing fourth in 1992 and 2004 respectively.
Even when the Olympics were held on Asian soil, in Tokyo (1964) and in Seoul (1988), only Japan managed to reach the quarter-finals at home, while all others fell at the group stage.
Now, with the tournament coming to the East again and the regional powerhouses present, hosts China PR, Japan, Korea Republic, and ‘newcomers' Australia will be out to make their mark this summer and finish their campaign on the podium.
Breaking the duck in Beijing
It took 20 years for China PR to return to the Olympic stage, and expectations are higher than ever as the sleeping giants prepare for their fourth appearance at the Games. Although the atmosphere in the buildup to the finals has not been ideal, considering the recent managerial change, the hosts will be hoping to achieve their goal of reaching the semi-finals.
The priority for new coach Yin Tiesheng, however, will be to break their Olympic duck. China PR have never scored a goal in their three previous appearances in the competition proper. The Chinese were beaten by Great Britain to be eliminated in the first round at Berlin 1936, before going down at the hands of Turkey in London 12 years later. In 1988, West Germany and Sweden proved too strong for China PR, who rounded off the campaign with a goalless draw with Tunisia.
Two decades on, however, China PR are well placed to finally end the drought and progress beyond the group stage. Captain and playmaker Zheng Zhi, Shandong Luneng marksman Han Peng, and Manchester United forward Dong Fangzhou will be eager to give their home fans something to cheer about.
Eighth appearance for Japan and Korea Republic
Asia's most successful team at the Olympics, Japan boast a proud record of reaching the quarter-finals four times and are banking on their young players to emulate the success of forty years ago.
In fact, there are no over-age players on the squad picked by coach Yasuharu Sorimachi, which means that Japan will be going into the tournament with ‘purely' U-23 players for the first time since Atlanta 1996, where they surprised the watching world by beating Brazil 1-0 in the opening match.
By contrast, Korea Republic reached the quarter-finals only once, at their seventh attempt four years ago, and now they are aiming higher: winning their first medal at the Olympics.
In a sense, coach Park Sung-Hwa's preparations had already begun even before the Games in Athens. Centre-back Kim Jin-Kyu and striker Park Chu-Young were part of Korea Republic's squad at the FIFA World Youth Championship in 2003, and two years later, coach Park brought them to the Netherlands along with central midfielders Baek Ji-Hoon and Oh Jang-Eun. This experienced quartet is joined by four starlets who took part in last year's FIFA U-20 World Cup, forming the backbone of the current side.
Olyroos acclimatised to Asia
In the past, Australia have failed to live up to expectations when hosting the tournament. They were knocked out by eventual semi-finalists India in the second round at Melbourne 1956, before bowing out in the group stage with three straight defeats at Sydney 2000.
Now representing Asia at the Olympics for the first time, the Olyroos are acclimatising themselves to the hot and humid conditions in the Far East. Graham Arnold's charges have been doing plenty of travelling, meeting a number of fellow Asian teams in a series of warm-up games: they lost 1-0 to China PR on Sunday, and will contest a friendly with Japan on Thursday before completing their preparations with a match against Korea Republic at the end of this month.