Tried and trusted Germany and Sweden, all change for China
The ten nations at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament announced their official squads on Wednesday. Each nation unveiled an 18-strong selection with no real surprise inclusions ahead of the prestigious event in Greece.
Reigning world champions Germany have named 14 players who saw action at the FIFA Women's World Cup USA 2003. The list is headed by FIFA World Player of the Year 2003 Birgit Prinz. Nia Künzer, scorer of the Golden Goal in the FIFA Women's World Cup Final against Sweden, remains sidelined as she battles to recover from cruciate ligament damage. The same injury has put paid to defender Stefanie Gottschlich's chances of an Olympic appearance.
FIFA Women's World Cup runners-up Sweden similarly stay true to a tried and trusted formula and include keeper Caroline Joensson alongside Malin Moström and Victoria Svensson. Despite sustaining cruciate ligament damage at the beginning of the year, Hanna Ljungberg is named in the Olympic squad after convincing coach Marika Domanski-Lyfors of her fitness.
American superstar Mia Hamm travels to her last major international tournament desperate to make amends for the bitter semi-final exit against Germany at the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup in front of her home crowd. Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett all appear at their third Olympics, but there is still room for newcomers in coach April Heinrich's team. Defender Heather Mitts and midfielder Lindsay Tarpley both make their debut appearances at a major tournament
Rebuilding exercise for China
China set about dismantling their team after a disappointing showing in the USA and travel to Athens under young new coach Zhang Haita with one eye already on the FIFA Women's World Cup 2007 on home turf. Experienced players such as Sun Wen have hung up their boots and the team has a completely revamped look compared to the side which fell in the quarter-finals at the last FIFA Women's World Cup. Just four members of the squad have previously tasted the Olympic atmosphere.
Fans can also look forward to marvelling at the silky skills of Brazil's 18-year-old prodigy Marta, on a superb run of form for club Umea, and polished Mexican ball-artist Maribel Dominguez, responsible for a string of important goals during qualifying. The Japan line-up includes fit-again markswoman Homare Sawa alongside strike partner Mio Otani. Hosts Greece name seven USA-based players.
Australia's Sally Shiphard provides living proof of the speed at which Olympic dreams can become reality. The 16-year-old midfielder so impressed coach Adrian Santrac with her convincing displays in qualifying for the FIFA U-19 World Championship, she found herself promoted to the senior squad as the youngest player at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament. Nigerian coach Ismael Mabo has set the semi-finals as a goal for the tournament and named USA-based striker Mercy Akide as their star attraction.
Just a short time ago, teams such as the USA or China appeared to be unassailable, but recent developments and especially the FIFA Women's World Cup in the USA last year demonstrated that the gap between the nations is rapidly narrowing. An exciting Women's Olympic Football Tournament appears a certainty.