Over 500 footballers eye Olympic gold
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While the Olympic flame gradually winds its way towards London, final preparations are under way in the British capital to ensure that the 2012 Games are an unequivocal success.

Over 10,000 athletes spread across 39 different sports will have their hearts set on returning home with a gold medal. No fewer than 504 of them – 288 men and 216 women – will compete on the football pitch, and as of today all of their names have been officially confirmed.

To see the complete Olympic squad lists, please click on the link on the right-hand side.

The men’s tournament will principally involve U-23 footballers, with each team allowed to include a maximum of three over-age players. The oldest male performer at this year’s Games will therefore be Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs, who at 38 years and 9 months is more than double the age of the youngest squad member competing in London, Gabon’s Muller Dinda, whose passport reveals a tender age of 16 years and 10 months.

New Zealand women’s goalkeeper Jenny Bindon is part of the same generation as Giggs, but having already turned 39, she would become the second-oldest player to take part in the Olympic Football Tournament if she took to the pitch in late July. The oldest player to make an appearance to date is Brazilian keeper Meg, who was well over 40 when she pulled on the famous yellow jersey at Atlanta 1996.

There are no age restrictions in place in the female version of the competition, so it is essentially full-strength senior sides that take part, as demonstrated by reigning world champions Japan, whose 18-woman list contains the nucleus of the squad that lifted the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™.

Given the lack of age limits, the women taking part can boast more enduring Olympic careers than their male counterparts. Fans will therefore get the chance to see Formiga, the Brazilian midfielder who has been an ever-present at the Olympics since 1996 and will be participating in her fifth Games this summer.

Formiga's compatriots Andreia and Rosana, as well as American defender Christie Rampone and current FIFA Women's World Player of the Year Homare Sawa of Japan, will all be representing their respective nations at the Olympic Football Tournament for the fourth time.

Rampone can lay claim to the best overall record, however, with two gold medals and one silver to her name thus far. Team-mates Hope Solo, Shannon Boxx and Heather O’Reilly have two gold medals each, and will be out to make it three in Great Britain.

Old foes
Over in the men’s contest, Brazilians Marcelo, Thiago Silva and Alexandre Pato will be aiming to improve upon the bronze medal they secured at Beijing 2008. Famously, Olympic gold remains the only major football prize to have evaded the clutches of A Canarinho.

There are nine other male players who will be making a return to the Olympic Games in 2012. Japan’s Maya Yoshida, New Zealand’s Ian Hogg and Ryan Nelsen, and Korea Republic’s Jung Sung-Ryong, Ki Sung-Yueng and Park Chu-Young all starred in China four years ago.

Another Korean, Kim Chang-Soo, had to content himself with a place on the bench in Beijing, while Mexican goalkeeper Jose Corona and Japanese defender Yuhei Tokunaga appeared as far back as Athens 2004.

Although the men’s tournament mainly features U-23 players, the intensity and desire to win will be no less fierce. Proof of teams’ serious approaches can be found by glancing towards the dugouts, where four of the coaches set to guide their promising starlets at London 2012 also happen to currently hold the reins of their nation’s senior side, namely Mano Menezes (Brazil), Oscar Tabarez (Uruguay), Georgy Kondratyev (Belarus) and Luis Suarez (Honduras).

While many of the players involved represent the future of the game, some of the coaches will be forgiven for looking back to the past. At the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™, Uruguay and Korea Republic, as well as Egypt and England, locked horns in crucial group-stage matches. Stuart Pearce and Hany Ramzy, coaches of Great Britain and Egypt respectively, both played a part in the latter encounter 22 years ago.

Myung Bo-Hong, who will lead the South Koreans at this year’s event, was one of the players who caused Tabarez, then in his first spell at the helm of La Celeste, a few headaches in the former clash.

If there was still any doubt as to whether or not footballers view earning a gold medal as an important achievement nowadays, the effort that three competitors in particular have put in to attend the event should put the argument to rest.

Spanish stars Jordi Alba, Juan Manuel Mata and Javi Martinez were members of the senior Roja team which, after a month of intense competition, triumphed at UEFA EURO 2012 on 1 July.

However, their London 2012 ambitions got the better of their fatigue, and the trio did not hesitate to make themselves available to Spain coach Luis Milla. Mata and Martinez already had earned a winners’ medal with La Roja at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, but the pull of a potential Olympic gold proved just as strong.

To conclude, here are a reminder of the tournament rules. In addition to the 18 players enrolled in the team for the final competition, each association is allowed, if deemed necessary, to select a maximum of four alternate players, who shall appear in the country’s final list, but shall not be officially registered for the tournament and shall therefore not be allowed to play.

The purpose of this is to have, once the final competition has started, alternate players available should one or more of the enrolled players sustain an injury, or in the event of force majeure. For more details, please see Article 10 of the Regulations (which can be downloaded from the links on the right-hand side).