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Football in the Olympics

Article posted on: August 03, 2016

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Football has been a mainstay at the Summer Olympics since 1900 and continues to be one of the highlights of the Games for many fans. The action begins today, ahead of the opening ceremony on Friday. 

So, what’s the format?

Well, in many ways, it’s quite similar to the World Cup. Groups of four teams play each other once in a round-robin stage, with three points awarded for a win and one for a draw.  

The top two teams (plus the two best third place teams in the women’s competition) then progress through to the knockout stages (quarterfinals, semifinals, bronze medal match and gold medal match). 

In the knockout stage, if matches are drawn after 90 minutes, extra time is played (two halves of 15 minutes). If the match is still drawn, the winner is determined by penalty shoot-out. 

Who’s taking part?

The men’s competition is, essentially, an Under-23 tournament, with a maximum of three overage players permitted per team. Qualification is automatic for the host country, Brazil, and then determined along continental lines for the other places. 

The winners from London 2012, Mexico, will be defending their title from stiff competition including Germany, Portugal and Argentina, among others. 

Well-known names include Paris St-Germain's Marquinhos and Borussia Dortmund's Matthias Ginter and Sven Bender. The biggest name to appear will be Brazil’s Neymar. The FC Barcelona star is, at 24 years of age, one of the host nation’s ‘overage’ players. They’ll be looking for a good result after a very disappointing home World Cup two years ago.  

The women’s competition has no age restrictions – the youngest player, Australian Ellie Carpenter, is just 16 years old, while the oldest, New Zealander Rebecca Rolls is 40. Brazil’s Cristiane is the leading goal scorer in the women’s competition and will be looking to add to her tally of 12 from the Games in Athens, Beijing and London. 

But hang on a sec, where are Team GB?

Well, after quite a bit of success in earlier Games, ‘Team GB’ stopped entering the Olympics in 1974. Why? Well, one major hurdle for a British team is that there’s no single governing body for football in the UK. 

Instead, each of the Home Nations have their own governing body, with just the English FA affiliated to the British Olympic Association. 

The problem with this, is that these separate governing bodies are concerned that coming together to field a ‘Team GB’ could prompt FIFA to reconsider their separate status. So, a ‘Team GB’ at the Olympics could lead to a ‘Team GB’ at the World Cup. 

All host countries have the automatic right to field a team in the Olympic football tournament. So, there was pressure for a ‘Team GB’ to take part at London 2012. 

Initially, the four national governing bodies agreed that only English players would represent ‘Team GB’, maintaining their separate status. But this was overruled by the British Olympic Association and, eventually, players from other Home Nations were included. 

Afterwards, it was decided that no ‘Team GB’ would be entered in the men’s competition in the future, although this may be possible in the women’s competition. 

Where are they playing?

You’ll probably recognise most of the venues, as they all hosted matches during the 2014 World Cup, with the exception of the Estádio Olímpico João Havelange in Rio de Janeiro. 

The men’s and women’s gold medal matches will take place at the world-famous Maracanã, which will also host the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games. 

Built for the 1950 World Cup, the stadium is named after the area of Rio in which it’s located and the river that flows through it. 

The biggest stadium in Brazil, it’s also the second biggest in South America and a rather fitting setting for the Olympic football gold medal matches. 

If your students are inspired by the action in Rio, why not encourage their enthusiasm by entering them into an international football tournament?

We’ve got a great range to choose from – just contact us today for more information.