With 12 teams for women and 16 for men, football at the Summer Games will have to start early for scheduling reasons. The same thing happened in London four years ago and there are no surprise elements in a start, earlier than the official Olympic opening ceremony on August 5, 2016. On August 3, the very first action at the Rio Olympics begins with a Group E women’s match between Sweden and South Africa in Olympic Stadium, Rio de Janeiro. Later on the same day, ten remaining teams will also play their first league games at Rio, Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte. Men’s tournament will begin on August 4 with the inaugural game between Iraq and Denmark in Group A while Honduras and Algeria play a Group D fixture on the same day.
Brazilian Formiga will acquire a unique distinction by competing in every Olympic Game, since women’s football became an Olympic sport for the first time during the 1996 Atlanta Games. Among the currently active players, Formiga’s six Olympic appearances are matched by her compatriot Robert Scheidt in the Brazilian sailing team. But there are two players at Rio Games, who would be making their 7th and 8th appearances. One of them is India’s Leander Paes, who first competed in 1992 Barcelona Olympics as a 19-year old and Rio will be Paes’ seventh appearance. Competing for the 8th Olympics in Rio will be Georgian shooter Nino Salukvadze. Incidentally the all-time highest Olympic record of an unbeatable 10 appearances belongs to Ian Miller of Canada, who competed in Equestrian during 1972-1976 & 1984-2012. This number could easily have been 11 but for the mass boycott of 1980 Moscow Olympics by US, Canada and several other West European nations in protest against Russia’s military presence in Afghanistan.
Besides Formiga, 5-time women’s world player of the year Marta will make her fourth Olympic Games appearance for Brazil, a team which lost to USA twice in the gold medal games at Athens in 2004 and again in Beijing in 2008. That said, USA has had a dominating presence in women’s football, having won the gold on 5 occasions and their only loss came in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where they lost the gold to Norway. Women’s football at Olympics is more exciting than men’s because of its formidable star-cast. Reigning World and Olympic champions USA have seven gold-medal winning players in their line-up and one among them is goalkeeper Hope Solo. Hope has been involved in the last three Olympics and if USA retains their top position at Rio, it will be the fourth time for Hope to win the gold. In their ranks, USA also have Carli Lloyd, who is currently rated as the best woman footballer in the world. The reason for women’s football at Olympic Games being more star-studded than men’s is attributable to no age restrictions for women players; whereas none of men’s national teams are allowed to have more than 3 players over the age of 23.
Brazilians have strong women and men’s teams and they will be eying for both the gold medals. The majority of the population has pinned its hopes on men’s football gold on the home soil after their disappointing loss to Mexico in 2012 London Olympics. Brazil have never won the gold medal in football and they will look to change that status this time round. The hosts will have Neymar as their captain besides Rafinha, midfielder Felipe Anderson and defender Marquinhos. In men’s edition, however, Brazil’s threat could come from Mexico and Germany while in women’s tournament; the home side will face stiff opposition from USA, France, Germany and Sweden. The women and men’s teams have been divided in the following Groups.
Group E: Brazil, China, Sweden, South Africa
Group F: Canada, Australia, Zimbabwe, Germany
Group G: USA, New Zealand, France, Columbia
Group A: Brazil, South Africa, Iraq, Denmark
Group B: Sweden, Colombia, Nigeria, Japan
Group C: Fiji, South Korea, Mexico, Germany
Group D: Honduras, Algeria, Portugal, Argentina