Mixed bunch prepare for battle
© AFP

The moment is nearly upon us, and the identities of the players set to compete for medals at the Olympic Football Tournaments in Beijing 2008 have been revealed. With the showpiece event just days away, FIFA.com brings you a host of intriguing facts on those involved to whet your appetite for the action ahead.

The national squads taking part in the men's event are made up predominantly of players under the age of 23, although up to three overage squad members can be included. And while eight teams will take their full complement of wily veterans, both Japan and Côte d'Ivoire have decided to eschew this possibility altogether. Indeed, it is the Africans that have included the competition's two youngest players in their ranks: 16-year-old Christian Okoua and 17-year-old Antoine Ngossan.

At the other end of the scale is the United States' Brian McBride. Not only is the 36-year-old forward the oldest player in the Men's event, he has also taken part in no fewer than three editions of the FIFA World Cup™ finals (France 1998, Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006). Another 16 did make it to Germany two years ago, however, and China's Li Weifeng was involved at the 2002 showpiece, but only one men's world champion will take the field at Beijing 2008. That man is Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho, a FIFA World Cup winner in 2002.

The AC Milan forward boasts previous Olympic experience, having appeared at Sydney 2000, where Australia's Archie Thompson also turned out for the host nation. Thompson's countryman Jade North, Korea Republic's Kim Dong Jin and Argentina's Javier Mascherano, meanwhile, were all present at Athens 2004, which of course ended with Mascherano's Albiceleste taking the gold.

And the defending champions have packed their squad with players accustomed to winning major honours. No fewer than nine of coach Sergio Batista's charges have FIFA U-20 World Cup winners' medals: Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Oscar Ustari and Ezequiel Garay from Netherlands 2005 and Aguero, Lautaro Acosta, Ever Banega, Angel Di Maria, Federico Fazio and Sergio Romero from Canada 2007.

Eredivisie influence
Nor must we forget to thank the clubs involved for enabling such a star-studded cast to take part. The biggest single contributor of talent for this August's competition are Eredivisie outfit AZ Alkmaar, who have six players involved. And with 28 representatives the Dutch league boasts the most players here in Beijing, followed by Italy on 27 and England with 23.

Thanks to the absence of an age limit for the Women's Olympic Football Tournament, seven old stagers will be appearing at a remarkable fourth consecutive Games. Brazilian trio Formiga, Pretinha and Tania, Germany's Renate Lingor, Birgit Prinz and Kerstin Stegemann and Swedish star Hanna Ljungberg have attended every edition of the event so far, going all the way back to Atlanta 1996. And should Formiga and Prinz manage to find the net on Chinese soil, they would become the only players to have scored at every Olympic Football Tournament to date.

Though other players may have more medals in their display cabinet, New Zealand's 35-year-old Jenny Bindon leads the way as the most senior performer. Bindon will surely not want reminding of this, but she is more than twice the age of Chinese youngster Lou Jianhui, who turned 17 in May.

And in an added treat for the local fans, all three players that finished on the podium at the FIFA World Player awards 2007 - Marta, Prinz and Cristiane - will be in action. The German sharpshooter has two bronze medals in her collection from Sydney and Athens, while the Brazilian duo will be aiming to go one better than four years ago, when they lost a keenly-contested final to USA.