Favourites and dark horses collide
© FIFA.com

Having gone through rigours of qualifying for the Men's Olympic Football Tournament at Beijing 2008, all 16 participants are now aiming to translate their continental success into a push for the podium. The group draw on 20 April split the hopefuls into four sections of four and, with only the top two advancing from each group, fierce battles will inevitably be fought to decide who advances to the quarter-finals. FIFA.com looks closer.

Group A: Defending champions face familiar foes
The draw brought a sense of déjà vu for reigning champions Argentina, who were left to lock horns three familiar rivals. The Albiceleste registered a 1-0 victory over Australia in the group stage en route to the title at Athens 2004 and the team will be hoping to repeat this feat when they renew acquaintances with the Australians on 10 August in Shanghai in their second group fixture.

The South Americans can draw further encouragement from their senior side's sensational 6-0 win over Serbia and Montenegro at the previous FIFA World Cup™, with the Serbians lieing in wait in the third round of group fixtures. Germany 2006 also witnessed a 2-1 win over Côte d'Ivoire, against whom Argentina open their Group A campaign at Beijing 2008. If everything goes to plan for Sergio Batista's side, the Albiceleste's rivals will certainly do well to match a side set to be bolstered by the sparkling all-star trio of Juan Roman Riquelme, Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi.

Group B: Dutch look to break ground
This group's opening round on 7 August will pit the two favourites, Netherlands and Nigeria, against each other, while outsiders USA and Japan do battle elsewhere. Nigeria, who famously claimed gold in 1996, will be aiming to repeat this remarkable feat, but the Dutch - three-times bronze medalists - have made clear their ambition to enter uncharted territory.

USA, meanwhile, are among the most frequent visitors to the global showpiece, with a total of 13 appearances, including five straight finals from 1984 to 2000. A host of the emerging talents who figured prominently in their last eight finish at last year's FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada last year have graduated to an Olympic side for whom there are high hopes. Under former Poland international and MLS all-time great Petr Nowak, the US certainly have the potential to spring a big surprise, while Japan will be aiming to cause a surprise in their home continent.

Group C: Hosts face Brazilian barrier
Initially, it appeared that China had been given one of the more kind draws when they were pitted against the unfancied duo of New Zealand and Belgium. However, the hosts' joy was tempered somewhat when the group's last spot was filled by the mighty Brazil, a team desperate to claim their first Olympic gold. Under Dunga's stewardship and with the talents of players such as Alexandre Pato at his disposal, the South Americans will undoubtedly start among the favourites to win the tournament.

Despite this tough assignment, China can at least count on their star player Zheng Zhi, who will be handed a creative role as one of the three overage players. For the midfield dynamo, the game against Brazil is one to savour. "We can only improve by playing against strong opposition like Brazil," said the Charlton man. "But we won't be scared."

Group D: Taeguk Warriors eye latter stages
While former champions Cameroon are widely considered the main threat to Italy in Group D, Korea Republic coach Park Sung-Wha did not hide his ambition to cause a major upset. In fact, the Taeguk Warriors have already set their sights beyond the group stage. Their quarter-final finish at the previous Olympic Football Tournament was their best-ever and Park is hoping his side can set a new benchmark this time around. "At Athens 2004 we narrowly lost the quarter-final clash against Paraguay," the South Korean coach told FIFA.com. "This adds to our confidence to fulfil our goal for this tournament - to finish the top three."

Eager to showcase their progress at youth level, the Koreans must nevertheless survive the stern test posed by Cameroon in the opening match in Qinhuangdao on 8 August. Next up for the Koreans after that are Italy, a side are composed almost entirely of Serie A representatives. Park's charges will also have to remain wary of the highly-skilled players of Honduras, whose recent record includes a memorable win over regional giants USA in their build-up to the world event.