Beijing 2008 Olympic Football Tournament Preview Part 1

As Beijing approaches and the teams whittle down their squads in a bid for medals rather than trophies, we take a look at the major contenders for gold in China and also at the rest of the pack…

If there was ever a summer where the football season really did never end then this is surely the one. First we had the excitement and drama of the European Championship, right now the U-19s are playing in their own Euro tournament and coming up at the start of August is arguably the second largest football event of them all at unarguably the largest sporting event in the world, the Olympics.

Group A – Ivory Coast, Argentina, Serbia and Australia.

Undoubtedly the standout team of the group and arguably of the tournament, Argentina have amassed a squad bursting with talent and potential to take the Olympics by storm this summer. Sergio Basile may well have riled a few clubs by picking players such as Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano for the tournament, but their inclusion will be sure to have fans drooling before the football even begins. With a likely strikeforce of Aguero, Messi and Diego Buonanotte, there is little doubt that should this young team excite as much on the pitch as it does on paper then gold could well be theirs.

The most likely challenge in the group will probably come from the Ivory Coast or Serbia, both of whom were in Argentina's 2006 World Cup group and both of whom include a few Premiership players in their respective squads. For the Ivorians, it is Salomon Kalou and potentially Didier Drogba and Kolo Toure who will travel out to China and for Serbia it is another Chelsea player in Branislav Ivanovic who makes the team, as well as towering Valencia striker Zigic. After a successful U21 European Championship, where they finished runners-up, the Serbians should expect to qualify from the group behind Argentina, and the key match for them will more than likely be against the Ivory Coast. In what is one of the toughest groups it seems highly unlikely that Australia will get anything from their three games, with a squad lacking any great experience at this level and with no Tim Cahill it would be surprising if they managed to grab anything more than a point.

Prediction: Argentina to win, Serbia to come second after beating the Ivory Coast.

Group B – Netherlands, Nigeria, Japan and USA.

Following a European Championship where they were heaped with praise for their attractive attacking football the spirits of the Netherlands team should be high, despite a completely new look to the squad. Out go many of the top players and in come exciting youngsters such as West Brom’s new signing Gianni Zuiverloon, Emanuelson and Canadian born Jonathan de Guzman. As the three overage players coach Foppe de Haan has decided to choose veteran striker Roy Makaay, Gerald Sibon and Kew Jailens, all of whom should help to mould a well balanced and technically brilliant team. As consecutive U21 European Championship winners they certainly hold a strong claim, and it would be no surprise to see them reach the final in China.

As far as the other group contenders go, it appears pretty even between Nigeria, USA and Japan. The Nigerians are probably slight favourites due to the fact that many of their national team play in the U23s too, adding vital experience to a squad which is devoid of many of the big names associated with Nigeria in the past. With no overage players due to injuries, Japan might struggle to get out of the group, unless coach Yasuharu Sorimachi can ensure they are disciplined enough to take points from the two weaker teams around them. Their key match could well be against the USA, a team lacking any real superstars who have been criticised in the past for their poor development at youth level. They should be keen to prove the critics wrong, but may struggle to do so.

Prediction: Netherlands to top the group with Nigeria close behind.

Group C – China, New Zealand, Brazil and Belgium.

China may well be prepping itself for a massive medal haul as the host nation this summer, but if they manage to even get out of their group in the football it would be a huge surprise. Whilst they might manage to get a result against New Zealand, who are taking part in this event for the first time, it would be a huge surprise to see them take anything from games against Brazil and Belgium. The Belgians are renowned for their good youth system and include a lot of strong players in their squad, including highly rated defender Vincent Kompany, Anthony Vanden Borre and Tom de Mul. As if the opponents weren’t enough to contend with, the Chinese have also sacked their coach Ratomir Dujkovic just three weeks before the tournament is due to start, replacing him with Yin Tiesheng. The fortunes of the team could well come down to how well he can prepare the team for the opener against New Zealand.

For group winners, it is pretty hard to see past the Brazilians. The major surprise in their squad has been the calling up of the AC Milan bound Ronaldinho, despite the fact he has not exactly been fully fit as of late. Him aside, Dunga has chosen a squad which, much like the Argentina team, excites even on paper, with Robinho, Thiago Neves, Diego and Pato just a few of the names to look out for. The only worry for the coach must be his forwards, none of whom were in great form following the conclusion of last season, and he will be presumably be banking on the midfield to weigh in with a few goals. If they do then there is little doubt that Brazil are one of the favourites for the tournament and yet another clash with Argentina beckons.

Prediction: Brazil to win the group despite dropping points to second placed Belgium.

Group D – Italy, South Korea, Honduras and Cameroon.

After a disappointing Euro 2008 a young Italian squad will be hoping to make amends in China and there is no doubt that they have the talent to do so. Ex-Italian international striker Pierluigi Casiraghi has assembled a squad which includes just one player over the age of 23 and is banking on the promising young players at his disposal coming good. Whilst that may seem wise with starlets such as Riccardo Montolivo, who was named Serie A Young Footballer of the Year in 2007, in the ranks, their lack of experience could be a flaw come the later stages. If they manage to overcome that however then they could be a real force to be reckoned with. Players like Robert Acquafresca, Lorenzo De Silvestri and Sebastian Giovinco are all very highly rated in Italy, and with Giuseppe Rossi spearheading their attack they should have little trouble winning the group and potentially going on even further.

The battle for second place is more than likely to come down to the clash between Cameroon and South Korea, with the Indomitable Lions the favourites to progress. Without Premiership midfielders Park Ji-Sung and Kim Do-Heon the Koreans do look a little weak on paper and it will be interesting to see whether their high fitness levels are enough to see them through this tricky group. Against Cameroon they will certainly need to be at their best as stars such as Samuel Eto’o and Alexandre Song will be sure to test their defensive skills. With them in the ranks and many other technically good players Cameroon should do well at this tournament and might even test the Italians when they meet. One team who aren’t expected to test the Azzurri however are Honduras who, despite qualifying ahead of Mexico, would do very well to pick up any points in this tricky final group.

Prediction: Italy to win the group followed by Cameroon.

Who are your tips to qualify and, furthermore, who might go on and win it?

Beijing 2008 Olympic Football Tournament Preview Part 1 Reviewed by admin Ucop on 10:57 PM Rating: 5

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