A perfect stage for future stars
Besides being among the greats of the game, Ferenc Puskas, Lev Yashin and Michel Platini have something else in common. They either established their reputations in the Olympic Football Tournament or used the Games as a springboard to stardom.
Perhaps the best known player who has graced the Olympics is Puskas, the great Hungarian forward. Puskas and his Magnificent Magyars solidified their reputation as football legends at the 1952 Olympics.
Puskas, known as the Galloping Major and widely regarded as having the deadliest left foot in football history, helped Hungary win all five of their matches, scoring 20 goals along the way and conceding just two. Puskas scored four goals in that tournament, including the first one in a 2-0 victory over Yugoslavia in the Final. Puskas and teammate Zoltan Czibor, along with Uruguay's Pedro Cea, are the only players to have scored in both an Olympic final and a World Cup Final (against Germany in 1954).
Yashin forged his reputation as one of the finest goalkeepers in history by proving the solid base for the Soviet Union's gold-medal success in Melbourne in 1956. Yashin, who finished his illustrious career having saved more than 150 penalty kicks, was virtually invincible. He was beaten only twice in five games and recorded three clean sheets, including one in the 1-0 triumph over Yugoslavia in the Final.
Yashin was not the only goalkeeper to take centre stage. Only 19 at the time, Ricardo Zamora made several important and spectacular saves for Spain's silver medal side in 1920. He conceded four goals in five games.
Deyna, Andrade, Nordahl, Platini...
Polish midfielder Kaz Deyna set modern football goal-scoring standards that might be difficult to beat. As the captain of two medal-winning sides (gold in 1972 and silver in 1976), Deyna scored a tournament-best nine goals in 1972, including both goals in the 2-1 victory over Hungary in the Final. Deyna, along with Olympic team mate Grzegorz Lato, played a key role for Poland in their third-place finish at the 1974 World Cup.
Uruguayan midfielder Jose Leandro Andrade is among a handful of players whose international career encompassed both the Olympic Games and World Cup. He was the cornerstone of Uruguay's consecutive gold-medal winning sides in 1924 and 1928. His superb playmaking abilities helped the South Americans to the first World Cup title in 1930.
And Gunnar Nordahl notched up eight goals to help Sweden to the 1948 gold medal. Nordahl's stellar performances earned him an opportunity to play for Italian club AC Milan. He went on to score a club record 255 goals.
While they did not propel their teams to medals, Mexican striker Hugo Sanchez and French virtuoso midfielder Michel Platini kicked off their international careers at the 1976 Games. Sanchez, 21 at the time, went on to star for Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid in Spain. Platini, 18, who wore the No. 11 shirt and not his more famous No. 10 then, enjoyed a long and prosperous career with St. Etienne and Juventus before becoming coach of the French national side and Co-President of the 1998 World Cup Local Organizing Committee.
...Baresi, Milla, Romario, Kanu
Several other players have used the Olympics as a stepping stone to greater things. Former Italian international defender and AC Milan great Franco Baresi anchored Italy, who finished fourth in 1984 and runner-up at the 1994 World Cup. Roger Milla scored a goal in the 1984 Games before he became a World Cup hero for Cameroon as a dangerous super sub six years later. Jürgen Klinsmann registered a hat-trick in a quarter-final win over Zambia for West Germany's silver-medal winning team in 1988.
Six years before he played a key role in Brazil's unprecedented fourth World Cup title, Romario was the attacking star for the South Americans' silver-medal winners at the 1988 Games. Topping the scoring chart with seven goals, he found the back of the net in the gold-medal game as Brazil fell to the Soviet Union in extra time, 2-1. Claudio Taffarel, who played every minute of the USA '94 campaign, was Brazil's goalkeeper.
More recently, striker Nwankwo Kanu, who does his scoring for Arsenal in England these days, connected for two late goals and helped engineer Nigeria's amazing comeback 4-3 victory over Brazil in the semi-finals of the 1996 Summer Games.
Ronaldo, who played for Brazil in that tournament, has gone on to greater fame and fortune. He was voted the top player in the 1998 World Cup and has been a lethal scorer for Inter Milan when fully fit.
Now a new generation of stars is waiting to emerge in Australia in September.