Olympic soccer (football) preliminary play started yesterday, with the Chinese women’s team beating Sweden 2-1 on goals from Xu Yuan and Han Duan. The men’s team plays New Zealand tonight in Shenyang, and Shanghai Stadium will host games next week, beginning with men’s Group A matches on Sunday.
Football is the most loved sport on the globe, but Cameron Wilson writes for China Sports Today that the Olympic tournament has little significance in the eyes of most fans. An excerpt of his musings below:
Does Olympic football matter and does anyone really care about it?
The answer in the eyes of this columnist is a resounding no. Olympic football has always been the black sheep of international football competition, with a long and awkward relationship with the governing body of football, FIFA. The tournament itself is basically a glorified youth world cup, with each side able to field three players over the age of 23. Whilst that allows a few super-stars, including Brazil’s Ronaldinho, to appear at this year’s Olympics, it prevents full national sides from appearing – this is something FIFA does not want to see hence its insistence on the under-23 rule to stop the Olympics overshadowing the premier world football event, the World Cup.
If you ask any football fan, “Who won the last world cup?” most would be able to say Italy. If you were to ask who were the gold medalists at football in Sydney 2004, the chances are few would be able to come up with the winner. Frankly, I can’t even remember myself and I have been a football aficionado as long as I can remember. Whilst the tournament is a useful pointer towards emerging young talents, there is an increasing tendency amongst the big European clubs to refuse to release their players for any tournament without considerable arm-twisting. With the Olympic football tournament well down the pecking order in terms of footballing prestige, its been no surprise to see several club sides reluctant to release their players for this tourney. Fixture congestion is a hot topic in football these days, and with utterly disgusting money-grabbing schemes like the EPL’s game-39 being put forward recently, this all adds more pressure on clubs to avoid the ignominy of their young stars getting injured at the Olympics. In short, the Olympics is the pinnacle for all sports—except football, so why bother?
But Wilson notes that Chinese fans have a slightly different perspective:
For the Chinese, the argument that Olympic football is of little consequence in the grand scheme of world soccer will fall on deaf ears. One can only imagine the entire Chinese football world being torn between diametrically opposed emotions – the burning desire to make a decent account of themselves at their own party, with the cold, paralyzing fear of losing yet more footballing face and making an undignified early exit. Shanghai Shenhua’s Li Weifeng, Shandong Luneng’s Han Peng and Charlton Athletic’s, Zheng Zhi are the three over-age players in China’s squad who will have hopes of Olympian proportions placed on their shoulders in an effort to get past New Zealand, Belgium and (gasp) Brazil and meet their coaches’ goal. With almost casual disregard for his own sanity, Chinese Olympic football coach Yin Tiesheng has stated that he believes a top-four finish should be achievable for his team. Such foolish aims will only serve to compound the team’s inevitable failure.