Football's Olympians under starter's orders!
The official 22-player squads for the Olympic Football Tournament have been submitted. While some countries opted to take full advantage of the right to name three players above the age of 23, others stuck with their underage squads and a few decided to just add a touch of solidity. We present an overview of each squad below.
Two teams stand out from the rest for having the audacity to stick with most of the players that successfully negotiated the qualifiers. Serbia & Montenegro, for example, will go to Greece without a single player over the age of 23. Their travelling party is made up entirely of raw players - there are no stars as such, and only four of the squad play their club football outside their homeland, the best known of whom is midfielder Goran Lovre, currently on the books of Anderlecht in Belgium.
Mali have chosen to make do with just one player older than 23, goalkeeper Tanagra Fousseni. Their squad still has a fair sprinkling of experience to draw on however, as no fewer than eight of their players ply their trade in foreign leagues, including Momo Sissoko, the Valencia midfielder, who at the grand old age of 19 and a half will fill the role of team leader.
Four other teams - Mexico, Korea Republic, Costa Rica and Japan - will bring just two players above the age threshold. The Mexicans have decided to add some steel to their midfield by calling up Israel Lopez (29) and Zinha (28) from the country's top club, Toluca. The Ticos, meanwhile, have gone for extra experience up front by giving the nod to 28 year-old Whayne Wilson and Christian Blanco, who at 23 and a half is a rather fresh-faced "veteran".
Japan's two over-age players are 25-year-old goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata of Kashima Antlers and star Feyenoord midfielder Shinji Ono (24), who was a key player for the Japanese at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™ and who will be expected to be at the forefront of a Japanese push for glory. The Koreans meanwhile have summoned midfield stalwart Kim Nam Il (26) and seasoned defender Chul Yoo, who at 33 will be very much the elder statesman of the side.
South Americans counting on experience
The 10 remaining teams all opted to take the full complement of permitted over-age players. The selections of three countries in particular show that they believe experience could prove a decisive factor in Greece. The Argentinian ranks will thus include Roberto Ayala (31), Kily Gonzales (30) and Gabriel Heinze (26), all of whom are battle-hardened campaigners from Europe's big leagues. Bearing in mind that they already have a glittering array of players under 23 (Javier Saviola, Andres D'Alessandro, Nicola Burdisso, Carlos Tevez, etc.), it is easy to see why the Albicelestes are one of the favourites for Gold.
Paraguay probably fall into that category also, and they too have plumped for tried and trusted internationals. Inter Milan defender Carlos Gamarra will, at 33, be the oldest player in this year's Olympic Tournament, though his compatriot, tireless Toluca striker José Cardozo (also 33), only just misses out on that accolade. The 28-year-old Reggina midfielder Carlos Paredes completes the Paraguayan trio of over-age players, who will bolster a squad that already gained valuable experience by competing in July's Copa América and includes such exciting talents as Roque Santa Cruz (Bayern Munich), Nelson Haedo Valdez (Werder Bremen) and Diego Figueredo (Valladolid).
Australia are another side entertaining high hopes of success, and they have chosen to boost their bid by bringing 28 year-old Craig Moore from Glasgow Rangers, Osasuna's John Aloisi (also 28), and 24 year-old new Everton signing Tim Cahill. Together, that triplet will be expected to make their experience of playing in Europe tell.
The other teams have opted to add slightly less experience to the mix, though their over-age players are still no novices. Portugal, for example, have included defenders Fernando Meira, (VFB Stuttgart, 26 years old) and Frechaut (Boavista, also 26) plus 27 year-old attacker Boa Morte (Fulham). They will complement a squad that features such classy youngsters as Cristiano Ronaldo, Hugo Vianna and Helder Postiga.
Ghana's trio of over-age players are only barely past the threshold. Gyan Baffous, Stephen Appiah and William Tiero have just turned 24, though the first two at least have many years international experience to their names. Italy, meanwhile, have decided to add Andrea Pirlo, Matteo Ferrari and Ivan Pelizzoli to the side that were recently crowned European champions at U-21 level. Players such as Alberto Gilardino (Parma), Simone Del Nero (Brescia) and Giampiero Pinzi (Udinese) are just some of the Italian youngsters who already have plenty of experience of playing for their country. Finally, Greece, Iraq, Morocco and Tunisia have all gone for some wise old heads, rather than major stars, to accompany their up-and-coming talents.
Another interesting thing to compare in the squad lists is the number of players from each country who ply their trade abroad. Teams with more foreign-based players tend to be able to call on more experience, provided, of course, those players are earning their livings in one of the major leagues.
Argentina and Ghana are the leaders of the pack in that regard, with 14 of their 22-man squads playing outside their native land. Australia and Morocco also count plenty of exports in their ranks (12 and 11 respectively). At the other end of the spectrum, all the Greek and Italian players are with home-based clubs, while Japan have a solitary overseas-based player and the Koreans and Costa Ricans have just two. All of these statistics may just give us some insight into the teams to watch out for over the coming weeks, but the outcome, of course, will be decided on the pitch. The moment of truth begins on 11 August.