Men’s Olympic Football Preview
With the days to the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics becoming fewer and fewer, the British public are still yet to openly embrace the prospect of a Great Britain football team going for gold in the men's tournament at the games.
The Scottish and Northern Irish FAs quickly put their foot down by insisting that their players should not be considered for selection, leaving only English and Welsh players at Stuart Pearce's disposal, somewhat diluting the notion of a united home nations team playing under the Union flag.
Despite certain levels of scepticism on these shores, the appeal and importance of the Olympic football tournament should not be underestimated. Here is a crash course!
• Football has been included in every Olympiad except 1896 and 1932 as a men's competition sport. Women's football was introduced in 1996 and has been played out ever since.
• Hungary and Great Britain are the joint most successful teams in the history of the games with three victories apiece.
• Since 1992, the rules of the tournament stipulate that players must be under the age of 23, with a maximum of three over-age players allowed in each squad.
• The event will take on a league format with four groups each containing four teams, the top two teams in each group will qualify for the knock-out stages.
• The winners of the respective semi-finals will progress to the Gold Medal match to be played at Wembley Stadium while the two losing semi-finalists will contest the Bronze Medal game at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
The Great Britain team, attending their first finals since the 1960 Games in Rome were drawn as seeds in Group A and somewhat surprisingly were installed as second favourites to top the group at 6/5. Captained by Manchester United's veteran star Ryan Giggs, Team GB can be backed at 1/4 to qualify through to the quarter-finals and 11/4 not to qualify. The outright betting for the men's tournament sees Team GB priced at 8/1, fourth favourites in the market.
One of the teams above Great Britain in the outright betting market, Uruguay (6/1), have been drawn in Group A alongside the hosts and are even money favourites to win the group. With Edinson Cavani (9/1 tournament top scorer) and Luis Suarez (8/1) playing in front of Liverpool defender Sebastien Coates, they could well prove dangerous foe. The forecast betting for Group A could well be of some interest to those who feel that the South Americans could just pip the opposition into first place. Uruguay/GB and Uruguay/Senegal are priced at 15/8 and 13/2 respectively.
To many, the UAE (9/2 to qualify from the group and 250/1 tournament outright) and Senegal will appear little more than cannon fodder against the might of the British and the explosive attacking of the Uruguayans but they should not be written off, especially the Senegalese.
Priced at 7/4 to make the knockout stages and 25/1 to make the headlines by winning the gold medal, Senegal could turn out to be the dark horses in London. The team, headed by Everton's prolific Magaye Gueye and West Ham midfielder Mohamed Diame, sealed impressive back-to-back friendly victories over their Spanish and Swiss counterparts on European soil. African teams have been able to use the under-23 ruling to their advantage with the continent's finest given the chance to shine and thrive in the Olympic environment. Both Nigeria in 1996 and Cameroon in 2000 went on to claim gold and there is no reason why Senegal cannot repeat those exploits.
Although Gabon won't be the whipping boys that everyone expects due to the fact that their squad is made up by the spine of their CAF under-23 team it is unlikely that they will trouble the other three teams in terms of qualification. Gabon are a huge 8/1 to win the group, 2/1 to qualify and 66/1 to win the tournament outright.
With Spurs' Giovani Dos Santos and Chelsea's Ulises Davila pulling the strings for Mexico, big things are expected from them. In what will be their tenth appearance at the Olympic Games, Mexico's best performance is still a semi-final appearance back in 1964, something the country's young stars will want to improve on. If coach Luis Fernando Tena can harness the undoubted quality within this team then qualification from the group (4/9) should be pretty straight forward and the medals matches could be a distinct possibility.
South Korea and Switzerland will also be confident of progression from Group B. The South Koreans can boast an impressive squad containing the likes of Park Chu-Young and Ji Dong-Wong but equally the Swiss will be looking for inspiration from forward Innocent Emeghara and Diego Benaglio.
The Asian hopefuls are 5/4 to qualify through to the quarter-finals, 6/1 to win the group and 50/1 to go all the way and win the gold medal while Switzerland can be backed at 2/5 to qualify, 11/10 to win the group and 9/1 for the tournament outright.
The 7/4 tournament favourites Brazil look set to sweep away Egypt, New Zealand and Belarus in Group C with the latter three teams fighting it out for second place behind the brilliant Brazilians. With the likes of Neymar, Pato, and the ominously named Hulk all donning the famous yellow shirts for the Games it is no wonder that Brazil are 1/7 to win the group with Belarus 10/1, Egypt 10/1 and New Zealand 16/1 all still generously priced.
Egypt could well be the favourites to qualify alongside Brazil with the experienced Amir Zaki leading the line. The group forecast for Brazil/Egypt is 6/4.
The Spanish Olympic squad will hope to continue the domination of world football that their senior team has created over the past four years by taking gold in London. Spain were drawn in Group D alongside Japan, Honduras and Morocco.
The under-23 squad announced or the Games contains a number of players involved in Euro 2012 as well as a fresh batch of exciting players already plying their trade in La Liga. Many spectators will be queuing to watch Athletic Bilbao's brilliant playmaker Ander Herrera. Both skilled and poised, Herrera was phenomenal in Bilbao's run to the Europa League final, playing in both legs of the victory over Manchester United. Herrera will line up alongside goalkeeper David De Gea, Chelsea winger Juan Mata, the impressive Javi Martinez as well as Barcelona's recent signing and full-back revelation Jordi Alba.
Priced at 1/5 to win the group and 2/1 gold medal second favourites, the bookmakers are clearly weary of Spain's young guns.
Their main rivals in the group should be the Japanese. Takashi Sekizuka's men have modelled their game on that of the Spanish and the meeting between the two teams should be intriguing. Borussia Monchengladbach striker Yuki Otso will spearhead Japan's attack and if the forward can fire in the goals then the even money on the team to qualify could look a real steal.
You can get 6/1 on Japan winning the group and 40/1 in the outright market which suggests that they might be a quarter-final team at best.