Men’s Football Day 1 Preview: Top teams begin their Olympic campaign

The Men’s Football tournament of Beijing 2008 will kick off on August 7.

In the curtain-raising match, Group A team Australia will take on Serbia. The match is also Serbia’s first Olympic appearance as an independent nation since the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia’s best Olympic result was at Los Angeles 1984 when it claimed a bronze medal.

The other Group A match will be between Argentina and Côte d’Ivoire. Argentina has won six consecutive FIFA World Youth Championship titles, including the most recent one in Canada in 2007. The defending gold medalist is poised to add another medal to its collection. With Sergio Aguero, Lionel Messi and its midfield powerhouse Juan Roman Riquelme in the squad, there’s no doubt that Argentina is the tournament favorite.

Côte d’Ivoire, which is making its Olympic debut, will definitely cause some trouble for Argentina. In its recent warm-up match against the Netherlands, the in-form Côte d’Ivoire held its highly-rated rival to a draw. Côte d’Ivoire’s potential cannot be underestimated.

In Group B, Japan will take on the United States. Japan won a bronze medal in 1964 by beating the host Mexico, the only time that an Asian country has won an Olympic medal in Men’s Football. However, Japan has been unimpressive at the last three Olympic Games.

The United States has qualified for the Olympics on 13 occasions, including five in a row from 1984 to 2000. Its best achievement is fourth at Sydney 2000. This United States squad, which features good footballers such as Jozy Altidore, Freddy Adu and Jonathan Spector, is regarded as well-organized and is expected to perform well at Beijing 2008.

The other Group B match is between two heavyweights: the Netherlands and Nigeria. The Netherlands won three Olympic bronze medals in 1908, 1912 and 1920. However, it hasn’t appeared at the Olympics for 56 years. Following on from its win at the 2007 European U-21 Championships, the Netherlands is expected to make a successful Olympic comeback.

Nigeria has quite a few talented players such as Obina Nsofor and Promise Isaac. This squad is similar to the team that took the silver medal at the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup in the Netherlands.

Brazil will take on Belgium in a Group C match. Five-time World Cup champion Brazil has yet to win an Olympic gold medal. With Ronaldinho and Robinho in the squad, Brazil will fight hard to break its Olympic drought. Belgium’s last appearance at the Olympics was in 1920, four years after they won an Olympic gold medal in 1916.

Also in Group C, host China will play New Zealand. China had a disappointing Olympic debut at Seoul 1988. As host, China directly qualified for its second Olympic appearance. New Zealand is making its Olympic debut and it boasts a couple of footballers who play in the A-League in Australia that may improve the chances of the Kiwis.

In Group D, Italy will face Honduras. The winner of five European U-21 championships, Italy is undoubtably one of the gold medal favorites. Honduras, however, is a dangerous opponent. Led by Inter Milan star David Suazo, the team’s all-out attack style of football may produce an upset and give its fans a pleasant surprise.

Cameroon, the gold medalist at Sydney 2000, will encounter the Republic of Korea in the other Group D match. Following its impressive performance in the qualifiers, the in-form Indomitable Lions (Cameroon’s nickname) are poised to maul their opponents. By comparison, the Republic of Korea’s track record is less brilliant. It scraped past the group stage at Athens 2004. But with its never-say-die attitude, it will strive to be Asia’s best performed team.