Familiar Faces In The Far East
Defending champions the USA, FIFA Women’s World Cup™ holders Germany and FIFA World Cup™ finalists Brazil are hotly tipped for gold at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in Beijing.
Only 12 years have passed since 76,000 spectators celebrated the US team’s gold-medal winning display against China in Sanford Stadium, Athens (USA), but this year it is Chinas turn to host the women’s tournament, which now comprises 12 teams. Expanding the number of participants makes for a balanced, challenging and clearly structured format in which four teams have to pack their cases after the group stages, rather than two, as was the case with the ten participants in 2004.
A common feature of all the final matches in the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament to date has been the presence of the USA. Thus far, only the Norwegians have been able to get the better of them, in the Sydney final. It remains to be seen whether this trend will continue in Beijing. The American team, currently ranked number one in the world, face at least five opponents who could be considered potential medal winners — world and European champions Germany, Norway, Sweden, Brazil and Asian champions Korea DPR. The top six in the FIFA women’s world ranking are all taking part in 2008, thus never before has the outcome of a Women’s Olympic Football Tournament been so open.
China PR is playing host to an elite women’s FIFA competition for the second time in a year following the FIFA Women’s World Cup China 2007 and is therefore familiar territory for all of the qualified teams except Canada. The Chinese, who have suffered a poor run of results recently, appear to have a reasonable chance of progressing in Group E, where Sweden, Canada and Argentina await.
Group F will see an early repeat of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2007 final between world and European champions Germany and Brazil. Korea DPR and Nigeria, still the only African team with previous Olympic experience, complete what appears to be the strongest first-round group. Finally, in Group G, defending champions USA and Norway (Olympic Champions in 2000) will be favourites to overcome Japan and debutants New Zealand.
All the leading lights in the women’s game will be in Beijing, of course, save for one woman who has participated in all eight FIFA women’s competitions since 1991 and who has collected honours like no other — Kristine Lilly. After an international career spanning more than 20 years, Lilly has decided to devote her energies in the near future to the next generation, namely her own.