The draw for the group stage of the Women's Olympic
Football Tournament at this year's Beijing Olympics has thrown
up some fascinating combinations. Group F features a re-run of the
FIFA Women's World Cup 2007 final, with the third and
fourth-placed teams at the global event also renewing acquaintances
in Group G. In Group E, China PR will hope home advantage helps
them to the quarter-finals.
Group E: Steel Roses enjoy home advantage
If the current FIFA women's world ranking is any guide, Group E should be a cut-and-dried affair, with third-ranked Sweden clear favourites to top the section. However, the stats never tell the full story in football, and the FIFA Women's World Cup runners-up in 2003 hardly enhanced their reputation at last year's tournament in China with a group stage exit. Furthermore, the Chinese will be determined to put on a good show for their home crowd at the Olympics.
"Back in the 1990s we were among the best in the world, but the trend has been downwards in recent years. We'll do everything possible to give the best possible account of ourselves this time," Steel Roses coach Shang Ruihua commented, evidently upbeat about his side's chances of making the last eight. China PR and Sweden have previously met four times at the FIFA Women's World Cup and the Olympics, the Asians winning twice and the Scandinavians once, with one draw.
That said, Canada will be quietly confident of progressing at the expense of one of the big two, while Argentina will be determined to wipe away the bitter memory of last year's global showdown, when they packed despondently for home after scoring just once and conceding 18 goals in three straight defeats.
Group F: Drama guaranteed
There can be no doubt as to Group E's status as the tournament's Group of Death, although reigning world champions Germany will start as favourites. The section opens with a bang in Tianjin with a re-run of the FIFA Women's World Cup 2007 final, when Birgit Prinz and Co face beaten finalists Brazil and superstar Marta, the FIFA World Player of the Year. Brazil have yet to beat the Germans at the FIFA World Cup or the Olympics, two of the six meetings ending in draws with the Europeans winning the rest. Germany have also yet to lose to Nigeria or Korea DPR. The world champions have beaten the Africans twice, and defeated the Asians in the quarter-finals at last year's FIFA Women's World Cup.
"This is a very tough draw. We've certainly landed in the strongest group and have three immense tests ahead of us," a pensive Germany coach Sylvia Neid commented, "We can't allow ourselves a single lapse if we have any ambitions of qualifying for the quarter-finals, and we'll need to be 1,000 percent up for it right from the start," she added. Despite the Brazilians' torturous qualifying route via a play-off against Ghana, many experts will have the South Americans marked in as joint favourites in the section. They have played Nigeria just once, a 3-3 draw at the FIFA Women's World Cup in 1999, and have never met Korea DPR.
Nigeria and the Koreans will start as underdogs, but the favourites will underestimate them at their peril. In three previous meetings between the pair, the Asians have two victories to the Africans' one.
Group G: USA and Norway favourites to progress
As in Group F, the final section also features a rematch between old foes from the FIFA Women's World Cup 2007, where Norway and the USA met in the third-place play-off, the Americans winning the day 4-1. The two giants of the women's game appear likely to dominate proceedings in their group in Beijing. The USA, currently leading the FIFA Women's World Ranking, are keen to live up to their billing as strong medal contenders. "We've been drawn against three very different teams using contrasting systems, so it'll be a test of our adaptability on the international stage with only a couple of days' break between games," remarked USA coach Pia Sundhage.
The favoured pair have met on seven previous occasions, the USA well out in front with four wins to Norway's one, with two games drawn. Japan will be underdogs but are always good for a surprise after coming within an ace of making the quarter-finals at last year's global match-up. By contrast, New Zealand would rather forget their trip to China in 2007, where they lost all three of their matches, conceding nine goals and scoring none. "Obviously, there won't be any easy games for us, but we'll give it our best shot and try to win at least once," commented New Zealand coach John Herdman.