Women provide Olympic warm-up as Brazil set to take challenge to US

By Samindra Kunti in Rio de Janeiro

August 2 – The Women’s football tournament will kick off competition at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games tomorrow with six matches across three venues in Rio, Sao Paulo and Mineirao. The official games opening ceremony takes place two days later in the Maracanã Stadium.

Sweden and South Africa will open play in the Olympic Stadium in Rio followed by host Brazil, desperate to win Gold at their home Olympics, who face China.

The United States of America, the defending world and Olympic champions, will begin their campaign in Mineirao against New Zealand as red-hot tournament favourites.

The Olympic football tournament traditionally precedes the main Olympic event and Rio de Janeiro is no different. Brazil, spearheaded by Marta, has never won an Olympic gold medal in women’s football. For the hosts, the tournament will be another good opportunity to showcase the best of Brazilian women’s football after a disappointing second round exit against Australia at last year’s Women’s World Cup. In Brazil, women’s football is generally failing to generate much traction among fans, TV broadcasters and sponsors.

Last year, the Brazilian FA, the CBF, founded a permanent women’s team, handing out central contracts, with the aim of peaking at the Olympic football tournament, but just before the start of the tournament the future of the permanent team was in doubt.

Brazil are hoping that their long preparation for the Olympic tournament will put them on level par, physically and tactically, with the leading nations in the women’s game. Germany, Sweden, Japan and Australia are also among the fancied contenders in the 12-team tournament.

The US romped to victory at the World Cup, defeating Japan 5-2 in the final with protagonist Carli Loyd who, with 223 caps, will be the most capped player at the tournament. In the women’s tournament there is no age restriction, a reason why the tournament is bestowed with such importance in the women’s game.

The USA will be in search of their fifth Olympic title since women’s football was introduced in Sydney 2000. They are on a run of eleven consecutive victories. They last failed to win in a 2-0 loss to Norway in their 2008 curtain-raiser. They open proceedings against New Zealand in Group G, which is further made up of France and Colombia.

The tournament culminates with the gold medal match on August 19 at the Maracanã. Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Salvador, São Paulo, and Manuas are the other host cities during the tournament.

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