Football has a long history at the Olympics. It started off as a demonstration sport at the first two Games in 1900 and 1904 before becoming a medal event in London in 1908. Since then, football has been an Olympic sport at every Games, apart from during the war years when the Olympics were cancelled, and in 1932 when the IOC and FIFA failed to agree on amateur regulations.
The Olympic Football Tournament was the zenith of amateur football until 1992, when professionals were permitted to take part. The rules also state that players must be aged under-23, with the exception of three “over-age” players per team.
The International Olympic Committee introduced women’s football into its programme for the 1996 Atlanta Games. There is no age restriction in the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament.
The last time London hosted the event was in 1948, when the Games resumed after a 12 year hiatus due to World War II. The principal venue that year was Wembley Stadium, where some 85,000 spectators left thoughts of post-war rationing and economic instability behind to enjoy a splendid sporting extravaganza in glorious weather. How fitting therefore, that over 60 years later the Games should return, and not only to London but to Wembley Stadium in its magnificent new guise.
In 1948, Great Britain won bronze in the Football competition with a team managed by Manchester United’s Sir Matt Busby. For London 2012, Stuart Pearce and Hope Powell will coach Great Britain's men's and women's Olympic football teams.
With the men’s competition limited to under-23s, plus a total of three older players permitted per team, the prospect of what lies ahead is simply mouth-watering. Add to that the global talent on show, and one starts to get a sense of how truly special such an event might be.
With preliminary matches, as well as quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals for both men and women, the London 2012 Olympic Football tournament at Wembley Stadium provides a chance to see the world’s best battle it out for that most illustrious of prizes: an Olympic Gold medal.
The groups for the tournaments are as follows:
Group A: Great Britain, Senegal, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay
Group B: Mexico, South Korea, Gabon, Switzerland
Group C: Brazil, Egypt, Belarus, New Zealand
Group D: Spain, Japan, Honduras, Morocco
Group E: Great Britain, New Zealand, Cameroon, Brazil
Group F: Japan, Canada, Sweden, South Africa
Group G: USA, France, Colombia, Korea DPR
Matches will take place at City of Coventry Stadium, Hampden Park, Millennium Stadium, Old Trafford, St James Park and Wembley Stadium.
The first London 2012 Olympic Football event at Wembley is on Sunday July 29th and features a double header in the Men's tournament. All four sides in Group A clash on what's sure to be an eventful day. At 5pm Uruguay take on Senegal and after that Great Britain play the United Arab Emirates at 7.45pm.
84 years have passed since Uruguay last appeared in the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament. The last time Uruguay appeared was at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam when they won their second successive gold medal. Uruguay qualified for London 2012 by finishing second in the 2011 South American U-20 Championship in Peru. Key players to look out for are goalkeeper Salvador Ichazo, defenders Diego Polenta and Leandro Cabrera, midfielder Matias Vecino and forward David Texeira.
Senegal qualified for their first ever Men’s Olympic Football Tournament by beating Oman 2-0 in a play-off after reaching the semi-finals of the African U-23 Championships in Morocco. Key players include Ousmane Mane, Abdoulaye Ba, Kara Mbodji, Stephane Badji, Kalidou Yero and Abdoulaye Sane. "Playing at the Olympic Games would be a very special and important event for my career as well as for my country as Senegal have always failed to qualify before now," says 22-year-old Norway-based Stephane Badji.
London 2012 will see the return of Great Britain's Olympic football team, who will be competing in their first Olympics since 1960. Great Britain won the first two gold medals in the history of the Olympic Football Tournament, in 1908 in London and 1912 in Stockholm. In the other edition that they hosted in 1948, they lost the bronze medal match 5:3 to Denmark. Head coach Stuart Pearce will be looking to take his experience from his role as England U-21 coach and England national team interim coach into the Olympic Games. Great Britain qualified as hosts.
Qualifying for London 2012 gives UAE their first ever appearance in the Men's Olympic Football Tournament. UAE went through the Asian qualifying tournament unbeaten, picking up seven wins and three draws from their ten matches played. Coach Mahdi Ali describes the Olympic competition as "a global event, no less important than the World Cup. You have the world’s best taking part in every sport." Players to keep an eye out for are Ahmed Khalil, Hamdan Al Kamali, Omar Abdulrahman and Mohamed Ahmed.
Wembley hosts its first game in the London 2012 Olympic Football Women's Tournament on Tuesday July 31st at 7.45pm when Great Britain take on Brazil in a mouth-watering clash.
Great Britain qualified as hosts and this will be first time a British team has participated in the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament. Players expected to shine include England regulars Alex Scott, Jill Scott, Kelly Smith, Casey Stoney, Fara Williams, Rachel Williams, Ellen White and Rachel Yankey plus Scotland's Kim Little.
After winning silver medals at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, Brazil will be looking to claim gold this year. Brazil booked their passage to London 2012 by winning all seven of their encounters in 2010's South American Championship in Ecuador. Key players to look out for are forwards Marta and Cristiane, midfielder Erika and defenders Aline Pellegrino, Rosana and Maurine.
The second Olympic Football Men's Tournament group stage game at Wembley is a Group B clash between South Korea and Gabon on August 1st at 5pm.
South Korea qualified for London 2012 by beating Jordan 4-2 on aggregate to reach the final qualifying round, where they remained unbeaten against Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to reach their seventh consecutive finals. Players to look out for are captain and centre-back Hong Jeong-Ho, inspirational playmaker Koo Ja-Cheol and versatile winger Kim Bo-Kyung, all of whom have also been involved with the senior national team.
Gabon head to London as champions of the CAF U-23 qualifying tournament, where they shocked Morocco in the final. Coach Claude-Albert Mbourounot sees the Olympics as a chance for his team to continue their rise up the global ladder. "Playing an attractive, lively and spectacular football will be our aim," he said. "A good result for us would be to go past the first round, to be among the last eight." Key players include Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Remy Ebanega, Emmanuel Ndong Mba, Allen Nono and Andre Biyogho Poko.
Will any of the teams make it back for the knock-out stages? Wembley hosts the Men's quarter-final on 4 August, the Women's semi-final on 6 August, the Men's semi-final on 7 August, the Women's gold medal match on 9 August and the Men's gold medal match on 11 August.
Tickets are on sale via www.tickets.london2012.com or by calling 0844 847 2012.