Olympic Preview: Soccer
First Olympic Appearance: 1900
by John Gettings and Mark Zurlo
Did You Know?
Only three countries in the history of the Summer Games have successfully defended a gold medal. The last time it happened was in 1968 (Uruguay).
One of the oldest and most loved team sports of the Games, more tickets will likely be sold for football (or soccer as it's called in the U.S.) than any other sport in London.
Men's soccer has appeared at the games every year since 1900, while women's soccer is making its third appearance as a medal sport. What makes the men's soccer event unique from the World Cup tournament is a rule that restricts teams to players under 23 years old (with the exception of three older players), making the Olympics a showcase for the world's up-and-coming stars.
The men's tournament will feature teams from sixteen countries, which will be divided into four pools for a round-robin preliminary tournament. The top two teams from each pool will advance to the quarterfinals. [The men's gold medal final will be held August 11.]
The women's tournament will feature ten teams which will also play a preliminary round-robin competition to decide which four teams advance to the semifinals. [The women's gold medal final will be August 9.]
The international rules of the game don't change in Olympic competition. But there are some things you should know:
- Ties If a preliminary round game is tied at the end of regulation, the game is ruled a draw. But in the quarterfinal round through the gold medal game, a sudden-death "golden goal rule" goes into effect after regulation in which the first team to score a goal in the overtime wins. If no goal is scored after two 15-minute extra periods a penalty shootout follows where each team gets five kicks at the opposition's goal to decide the winner.
- Kickbacks If a defender kicks the ball back to his own goalie, the goalkeeper may not use his/her hands, but instead must either kick it or use their head.
- Substitutions No player can return to the game after they've been replaced by a substitute. Teams are allowed three substitutes a game.
Decades of success for Eastern European countries like Hungary, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union have given way to a new wave of teams from South America, Africa, and Western Europe.
The London soccer competition will begin two days prior to the opening ceremonies, on July 25, and finish the day before the closing ceremonies. While the championship matches for both men and women will take place at Wembley Stadium, other games will be played at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium and Manchester's Old Trafford, as well as at St. James' Park in Newcastle, Hampden Park in Glasgow, and the City of Coventry Stadium.