USA
© AFP

The past
The United States have qualified for the Men's Olympic Football tournament 13 times, including five straight finals from 1984 to 2000. Their best-ever finish came in 2000 in Sydney when, led by Landon Donovan and goalkeeper Brad Friedel, the Stars and Stripes only just missed out on Bronze after losing to Chile. Since the Olympic tournament became a primarily U-23 event in 1992, the Americans have participated in every competition save for the most recent one at Athens in 2004 when they lost in the semi-finals of CONCACAF qualifying to Mexico.

The present
Coached by former Poland international and Chicago Fire icon Peter Nowak, the young Americans were a well-organised outfit in the qualifying tournament for Beijing. They took some time getting rolling and required set-pieces for most of their goals, but the hosts managed to win their group with victories over Panama and Honduras. In the semi-final Freddy Adu led the way with two goals in a 3-0 win over Canada. They could have used his magic again in the final against Honduras, but with qualification already assured, the Benfica man and a number of his European-based team-mates headed back to their clubs early. In the end, the Hondurans prevailed 1-0 after extra-time. Even so, the young Americans showed off a raft of significantly talented players in the competition. Sacha Kljestan, Jozy Altidore, captain Maurice Edu and Marvell Wynne were chief among them.

The future
Strengthened by three senior players at the finals in the Far East, including the iconic Brian McBride, the Americans will be hoping to win their first piece of major global silverware, moving beyond the semi-final finish in Sydney. With a richly talented squad and a tactically astute manager in Nowak, Beijing 2008 might just be the time and place for the North Americans to shine. Midfielder Stuart Holden, who stood out among the US' best in qualifying summed up the team's hopes: "It feels amazing and it is kind of a relief. We've put in all this hard work over the last couple of months and now we're going to Beijing. It feels good to play that well in that important of a game (semi-final against Canada) and qualify for the Olympics, where we hope to keep up the form and give it our all."

Facts and figures

Former stars
Landon Donovan (2000), Claudio Reyna (1996), Cobi Jones (1992), Tab Ramos (1988), Chico Borja (1984), Harry Keough (1956), John Souza (1952), Walter Bahr (1948)

Key players
Michael Bradley (midfield), Freddy Adu (midfield), Jozy Altidore (forward), Brian McBride (forward), Danny Szetela (midfield)

Qualifying statistics
Despite winning Group A, the USA never looked comfortable doing it. Both of their wins in the first round were by one-goal margins.

The numbers game
1: The number of goals the USA scored from the run of play in their five games at the CONCACAF qualifiers.