No, David Beckham won’t be there, but there will not be a shortage of star power in this year’s Men’s Olympic tournament. Thanks to the competition’s unique rules – all players must be under 23 except for three wild cards – we’ll get to see a rare combination of young and old battling for Olympic Gold.
Of the 16 teams entered in the tournament four are newcomers, but with apologies to Senegal, Gabon, Belarus and the United Arab Emirates, most eyes will be on Brazil and the next big thing in Football, Neymar. Gearing up for the 2014 World Cup, the Brazilian squad is absolutely loaded. Manchester United target Lucas Moura joins Neymar, Paulo Henrique Ganso and Romulo to form the core of a team expected to challenge for a medal at the very least. Brazil’s overage players include Hulk, Marcelo and Thiago Silva – a superb trio of veterans who will be immense in leading this squad through a short tournament.
The hand wringing over Beckham’s exclusion from Great Britain’s entry has taken away from Stuart Pearce’s well put together squad. Elder statesman Ryan Giggs captains a team with an abundance of young, if unproven, talent. Players to watch include Goalkeeper Jack Butland, Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey and Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge. The group stage game of the tournament looks to be the August 1st fixture between the Brits and Uruguay.
Spain’s entry includes Euro 2012 winners Juan Mata, Jordi Alba and Javi Martinez – not to mention an insane amount of young talent that should breeze through a group featuring Japan, Morocco and Honduras. For a country with a rich football tradition, Mexico’s results at the Olympic games have been lackluster. Led by Tottenham outcast Giovanni Dos Santos and veteran defender Carlos Salcido, Mexico enters an inexperienced team in a group with dark horses South Korea, Switzerland and newboys, Gabon. Ji Dong-Won – scorer of one of the more memorable goals during last year’s wild Premier League and Park Chu-Young form South Korea’s key strike tandem, though a relatively inexperienced back line could be their undoing.
We’ve covered the heavyweights. It would not be surprising to see one of Brazil, Spain or yes, even Great Britain take the Gold. But along with South Korea and Switzerland, here is one more team to keep an eye on as the tournament draws near.
Uruguay’s performance at the 2010 World Cup served as a renaissance for a national program that was once an international powerhouse. Leading their Olympic entry is Liverpool firecracker Luis Suarez – he of the most dramatic handball since Diego Maradona – and possibly the most underrated striker in the world, Edinson Cavani. Featured in a group with the hosts, Senegal and the UAE, you have to like Uruguay’s chances of advancing to the knock out stage.
We end with not a bold prediction, but a sensible one. Expect Spain, Uruguay and Brazil to walk away with medals on the 11th of August. And at the risk of them proving me wrong for the third time in the last four years, Spain wins the gold.