It may be one of the most recently included sports in the Olympic Games but, even after featuring at just five editions, women’s football has already left its mark on the world’s biggest multi-disciplinary sporting event. And prior to turning the spotlight onto the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament (WOFT) at Rio de Janeiro 2016, FIFA.com brings you some of the highlights of the competition’s short but fascinating history.
Starting as mean to go on
The first edition could not have had a more favourable setting than Atlanta 1996. After all, the USA was and is a frontrunner in terms of the infrastructure and profile of the women’s game. As time was too short prior to the Games to play out a qualifying competition, seven of the eight quarter-finalists from the FIFA Women’s World Cup 1995™ were invited – a scenario that left African and Oceania without representatives.
Taking the final berth in place of England, ineligible to take part due to International Olympic Committee rules, were Brazil, who went on to finish fourth. However, it was the hosts who ended up taking gold by beating China PR 2-1, a scoreline repeated in three of five WOFT finals to date. The Stars and Stripes thus began a tradition they have continued ever since: taking part in the title decider.
What is more, United States have only ceded their grip on gold once, when Norway built on their bronze from Atlanta to claim the ultimate prize at Sydney 2000 – Dagny Mellgren settling matters via an extra-time golden goal. Marking the first appearance of an African team in the competition were Nigeria, though they failed to emerge from the group phase in Australia.
Since then, the gold has ended in US hands on three consecutive occasions, with Brazil the bridesmaids at both Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. Marta and Co did not make it easy for them, however, with luck particularly elusive for A Seleção on Greek soil. Indeed, the Brazilians struck the woodwork twice with the score at 1-1 in the final of that tournament, now featuring ten teams, before a young Abby Wambach headed an extra-time winner.
Featuring an OFC representative at last, in the shape of New Zealand, and with a starting field widened to 12, Beijing 2008 welcomed the same teams back in the final and enjoyed a similarly dramatic outcome. Following an exhausting goalless 90 minutes, the balance was tipped in extra time thanks to Carli Lloyd, who picked up the ball outside the box before sending a powerful, left-foot shot arrowing into the net.
Fate would have it that the same player would provide the necessary inspiration in the showpiece four years later, this time in London in front of a record crowd of 80,203. Beaten a year earlier by Japan in the Final of the Women’s World Cup Germany 2011, the Stars and Stripes tasted golden revenge with Lloyd’s double clinching a 2-1 triumph. And just as in Beijing, her winning goal came from a fierce strike from the edge of the box, this time with her right foot.
Trivia fans, meanwhile, will be curious to note that Germany snatched all three bronze medals between 2000 and 2008, though it was Canada that snatched the last podium spot in London. That same edition also witnessed another first, when Brazil fell in the quarter-finals to miss out on the last four for the first time.
Top teams, star names, tight contests and epic successes: that has been the story so far of the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament. What will the sixth chapter of this intriguing tale, at Rio de Janeiro 2016, have in store?