Five-time world champion Brazil is the team to watch out for in this year’s football tournament
“These guys want to win Premierships, Champions League trophies and World Cup medals. They don’t grow up wanting to be an Olympic champion; they want to be the best in football.”
This view was recently expressed not by a footballer or football pundit but by the world 400m hurdles champion, Dai Greene of Great Britain. Greene also believes that most athletes would not want football to feature at the Olympics as it threatens to overshadow their achievements.
Thankfully, it doesn’t seem that Greene’s fears will be realised soon. The reason behind it lies in his quote. Though football is by far the most popular sport in the world, the tournament at the Olympics is yet to prove its legitimacy as a major championship and has come to be seen as an unnecessary distraction.
The tournament’s standing in world football has historically been further weakened by the various restrictions imposed first by the IOC and then FIFA.
After the first three Olympics featured representative club teams as nations, countries began to send their national teams from the 1908 Olympics in London. However, not all nations could field their full-strength teams as the IOC permitted only amateur players until the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
This relaxation, though, only proved to be a false dawn as FIFA, in order to ‘protect’ the World Cup, announced that European and South American teams could only field players who hadn’t featured at the World Cup. Eight years later, in Barcelona, the rule was again changed to its present format which allows countries to select only three players over the age of 23 in their squad.
The arguable incongruity of the football tournament at the Olympics can be further explained by its scheduling. Football will be the only discipline to begin before July 27, the day of the opening ceremony.
Incongruous or not, the tournament is yet to see significant enthusiasm from fans. A week before the start of the tournament, the organisers announced the scrapping of 500,000 football tickets citing low demand. Another half a million tickets are yet to be sold. However, in a minor respite to the organisers, Great Britain matches and knockout stages have sold well.
Great Britain, an oddly assembled group of English and Welsh footballers including serious long-term prospects like Chelsea’s Daniel Sturridge and a few little-known players like Marvin Sordell, is one of the major contenders for the gold medal. Home advantage will be a massive plus for Team GB.
However, for all its advantages, Team GB is not the strongest side. The qualifiers from South America, Brazil and Uruguay stand out for their wealth of attacking talent. Uruguay has selected Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani as its main strikers and is drawn in the same group as Great Britain.
Brazil, however, is the team to watch out for in this year’s tournament. Alongside strikers like Neymar, Hulk and Pato, the five-time world champion also possesses Chelsea-bound midfielder Oscar, Sandro, Rafael and Thiago Silva.
Spain completes the list of favourites for the gold medal. The World and European champion has chosen a strong squad featuring young starlets like Jordi Alba, David de Gea, Javier Martinez and a creative senior player in Juan Mata.
Hence, the tournament will have the necessary star players to give its image a massive boost. But for fans who will see these stars and many others when the regular season begins next month, the tournament is a toned-down version of all that a major tournament can offer.
The tournament, unfortunately, is unlikely to find its soul in London. For now, Dai Greene can sleep peacefully.