The Olympic soccer tournaments were playedin a number of different cities - Birmingham/Alabama, Washington D.C., plusOrlando and Miami in Florida for the group games, then Athens/Georgia for thefinal matches - and from the sporting angle were a huge success. It was a timeof records and premiers, and not only because this was the first time that theladies were taking part. The spectators came too, over 1,364,000 million ofthem (averaging 40,125 per game), a massive increase over Barcelona 1992(average 14,572). On the international TV circuits nearly all the matches werecovered, but in the USA itself the fans were not well served, despite thecontinuously increasing interest in the game of soccer.
The women's tournament confirmed what had been noticed a year earlier atthe World Championship in Sweden - women's football continues to develop apace,and the level of the top teams is now very high, not just in terms of technicalskills and athletic ability, but also from the tactical viewpoint. The winningUSA team was probably the best prepared and also had the most even standardamong its players. Silver went to China, bronze to Norway, and themuch-improved Brazilian girls surprisingly earned fourth place. Among the men,the youngest proved to be the best. Averaging only 21.1 years of age, theNigerians earned themselves a place in football history. It was the first timethat a team from Africa had won a tournament of this importance.
The "Eagles", who seemed often to need the incentive of being behind in amatch to get them really going, provided refreshing football, with their bestdemonstration being in the semi-final against Brazil, where they came back frombeing 1:3 down and scored the Golden Goal during extra time. In the final too,their Dutch coach Jo Bonfrere saw his team fall behind twice to Argentina,before finally coming through to win 3:2 and earn themselves gold medals. Thirdplace went to Brazil who trounced Portugal 5:0 in the play-off. The SouthAmericans were a bit lacking in respect for Olympic tradition and wanted toleave before the final took place - the Olympic Committee went along with theirrequest, and the medals were awarded right at the end of the game for thirdplace instead of after the final the following day.
The Olympic football tournament in the USAwas much more than just 48 games. The first-ever competition for women alsooffered some excellent sport: attacking play, plenty of goals, tension, hardfought battles, fair play and drama too. These attributes could be seen innearly every match and were excellent advertisements for the game. In additionto the players, the fans and the referees played a big part in making thetournaments a success.