London 2012: Football (Soccer)
Tell me about football:
The world’s most popular sport needs no introduction, unless of course you’re in the United States, in which case we’re talking about soccer. Football made its debut as a medal sport in Paris way back in 1900 with the first women’s competition coming in 1996 at the Atlanta Games.
This year’s London competition will be spread across six different major playing fields. With just one men’s and one women’s competition, the 16 men’s and 12 women’s teams will battle for the one gold medal up for grabs in each tournament.
What’s up with the scoring?
The scoring in football is incredibly simple, but for those of us whose only memories of the World Cup involve vuvuzelas and Shakira’s anthem “Waka Waka”, a team receives a point when one of their players successfully gets the ball past the opposing team’s goalkeeper and into the net.
How do players qualify?
A series of six tournaments decide the qualifying teams for both the men’s and women’s tournaments, with one spot left open for Great Britain who automatically qualifies as the host country.
Once at the Games, the tournament kicks off with a preliminary stage, where the 16 men’s and 12 women’s teams are divided into groups of four teams, and each team plays every other in their group. Teams receive three points for a win, one point for a draw/tie and nothing for a loss.
The best eight teams in both competitions then go on to qualify for the quarter-final round, followed by a semi-final round. In the knockout matches the winners of the semi-finals go head-to-head in the gold medal match and the losing semi-finalists play for the bronze medal.
Draws are decided by two 15-minute periods of extra time in the knockout stage followed (if necessary) by a penalty shootout with five shots allotted per team. If the scores are still tied, the match will then be decided by sudden-death penalties.
The United States men’s team did not qualify for a spot in the London Olympics.
International players to watch:
On the men’s side, Argentina took gold in Beijing, and Spain took the FIFA World Cup title in 2010. However, the competition is pretty tight and Brazil and Great Britain boast some big names that could boost them to gold. Neymar is the most popular player in Brazil, and at 20 years old, the pressure will be on for him in London to help Brazil to its first-ever Olympic gold. Brazil and Spain are by far the top two teams to watch with arguably the most talented group of players at the Games. The men’s competition looks like it will shape up to be one of the most exciting in London this year.
Brazil and Germany took silver and bronze behind the US women in Beijing, but Japan is obviously a team to watch after winning the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. France also poses a threat, as they haven’t lose since a loss to the U.S. in the World Cup semi-finals last year.
Americans to watch:
With no US representation on the men’s side, the women’s team is America’s only shot at gold in football. Hope Solo and Abby Wambach have become household names through US women’s soccer, and they’re certainly coming into London with high expectations for their team. The team took gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and took silver at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final after a penalty shootout loss to Japan. They’ll be looking for redemption after that heartbreaking 2011 loss to Japan.
Wambach has some extra motivation as the 32-year-old had to sit out in 2008 after breaking her leg in the final match before the 2008 Olympics.
Talk like an Olympian – terms to know:
Extra time – occurs when a match is tied after 90 minutes of play. Teams play 30 minutes of extra time to attempt to determine a winner.
Foul – an illegal interference with an opposing player.
Indirect free kick – a free kick by which the attacking team does not score without more than one player touching the ball first.
Penalty shootout – In the event of a tie after extra time, the game goes to a penalty shootout with five kicks per side. If the teams remain tied after five penalty kicks, the shootout goes to sudden death to determine the winner.