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Article: Olympic Games Men's Football Tournament Rio 2016
Olympic Games Men's Football Tournament Rio 2016

The pressure to deliver Olympic gold will most certainly be on hosts Brazil after Dunga`s gamble in going into Copa America resting Neymar backfired, costing the national team elimination at the group stage and the coach his job.

The draw for the Men`s Football Olympic Tournament, held at the iconic Maracana Stadium, which will stage the Final, threw up a cracker in Group C by pairing World Champions Germany with defending champions Mexico. The other teams in a very strong group are Republic of Korea, Bronze medallists in 2012 and minnows Fiji who are likely to gain little more than experience when they take to the world stage.

Group A is overflowing with Expectation, with a capital E, as far as the host nation goes. This time it will be incumbent on skipper Neymar to make up for a dreadful Copa America by leading Brazil to a first ever Olympic football title. It is the only major international title Brazil has never won. South Africa, the vastly improved Iraq and never to be underestimated Denmark comprise the rest of the group.

Denmark has a good record in the competition with 3 silver medals and one bronze from their eight appearances. If Brazil do emerge from the group they could face either Germany, who humiliated them in their own World Cup two years ago or they could face Mexico who edged them out of the 2012 Final in London.

Group B is perhaps, on paper, the strongest of the groups with Sweden, Colombia, Nigeria and Japan. Last year Sweden won their first UEFA U21 tournament despite being grouped with five times winners Italy and two-time champions England. Nigeria was the first African nation to win Olympic gold, in 1996, and no African nation has won more games in the Olympic finals, 10.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden`s self-proclaimed legend, who was named in the provisional squad, has already been quoted as saying `to play in Rio would be awesome`. But with a move to Manchester United pending it`s doubtful if new OT boss Jose Mourinho will agree to the free-thinking Zlatan missing the first two games of the Premier League season.

Group D is `headed` by Argentina whose record of seven appearances in the Olympic Football finals is bettered only by Brazil`s 12. Argentina were the first country to qualify for Rio by virtue of their success in the South American Under 20 Championship. Argentina might have a similar problem to Sweden and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in that West Ham`s Lanzini and Everton`s Funes Mori, named as over-age players, may not be allowed by their respective clubs to go to Rio. Everton of course have a new manager and West Ham could start their Europa League campaign as early as June 30th.

Potential `dark horses` for the gold medal Algeria still haven`t ruled out Riyad Mahrez as an over-age player for Rio and Le Vert`s clash with Argentina could be one of the games of the tournament. Honduras and perennial under-achievers Portugal could provided stiffer than anticipated opposition for expected champions and outsiders Algeria, especially if Mahrez plays.

The tournament, which will be staged in seven stadiums in six different cities, kicks off on August 4th and culminates at the Maracana sixteen days later. The opening game will be between Iraq and Denmark in Group A while Brazil start against South Africa later that day in the capital.

FIFA also has a major concern ahead of Rio in terms of the infrastructure for the tournament, especially where stadia and pitches are concerned. The stadiums at Manaus and Brasilia have hardly been used since the 2014 World Cup and at the Amazonia Stadium, in Manaus, the playing surface has yet to recover from a caterpillar attack last December. And at Brasilia the playing surface is pitted with sand-filled holes.

Talking of playing surfaces, even the legendary Maracana is causing a few furrowed brows. The grass that will stage the Final itself has been planted elsewhere, at a farm, and will be moved, untested, to the Maracana before the games start.

By Brian Beard.
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