Four years after Angel Di Maria’s 58th minute goal gave Argentina the Gold Medal at Beijing’s iconic Bird’s Nest stadium, the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament begins across Great Britain on Thursday, with Spain’s game against Japan at Glasgow’s Hampden Park the first of 32 matches in just 17 days.
The world champions and UEFA EURO 2012 winners will be looking to add Olympic glory to their list of growing achievements since 2004 and history certainly favours the teams from Europe. Sixteen out of the last 22 winners have emerged from the Old Continent, with Great Britain also in the running to win gold for a record fourth time.
Should Stuart Pearce’s side achieve that feat, they will end an unwanted run for host nations at the four previous tournaments, which has seen USA, Australia, Greece and China PR exit at the group stage. Yet an even longer time has elapsed for Brazil, who despite winning five FIFA World Cups and eight Copa Americas, have never been crowned Olympic champions, despite participating in 11 previous editions of the tournament.
Mano Menezes has been tasked with fulfilling the ambitions of the 2014 hosts and has at his disposal a strong squad including Santos duo Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso, Sao Paulo’s Lucas and Internacional forward Leandro Damiao, who will no doubt be boosted by the experience of over-age trio Hulk, Marcelo and Thiago Silva.
There are plenty of stars on show at London 2012, not least among some of the veterans. Egypt’s Mohamed Aboutrika, Team GB’s Ryan Giggs and Mexico’s Carlos Salcido will all be looking to roll back the years to inspire their teams, while established internationals Park Chu-Young (Korea Republic), Juan Mata (Spain) and Luis Suarez (Uruguay) are currently missing the pre-season campaign with their respective Premier League sides in order to participate in the Olympics.
Iconic locations and the weight of history
They will, of course, be familiar with the majority of venues used for the tournament with some of the UK's most iconic stadiums in use: Hampden Park, the Millennium Stadium, Old Trafford, St. James Park, the City of Coventry Stadium and Wembley will all host large crowds eager to see some fantastic football.
Alongside Great Britain in Group A are Senegal, who required a play-off win over Oman to qualify for the tournament, Olympic debutants United Arab Emirates and Uruguay. Indeed, the last time the South Americans were at the games, back at Amsterdam 1928, they won gold. Group B sees the CONCACAF champions Mexico go head-to-head with African winners Gabon, with Switzerland and Korea Republic the other sides in the section.
With Brazil in Group C are Egypt, who finished fourth in 1928 and 1964, New Zealand who are coached by former Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder Neil Emblen and Belarus, the first European debutants since Israel in 1968. Completing the 16 teams are Luis Milla’s Spain side, who are in Group D alongside Japan, who lost only one game in qualifying, Morocco - whose victories at the Games have only come against Asian opposition - and Honduras, who have recorded just one win in six Olympic matches.
This is the 23rd Men’s Olympic Football Tournament, which has been organised under the auspices of FIFA since 1908. It was a demonstration sport at the 1900 and 1904 Games and was a strictly amateur event until 1992, which was the first time professionals were allowed to take part. The rules state that players must be under the age of 23, with the exception of three ‘over-age’ players.
As ever, FIFA.com will be offering exclusive coverage from the tournament with latest news and images from the venues, including a whole host of exclusive interviews and detailed statistics. So make sure you don’t miss a kick of the action by checking back regularly and following us on twitter @FIFAcom.