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Asia seeks first olympic football gold in 100 years

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 17 Jul 2008

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No Asian team has won the football gold medal since the sport was included in the Olympics 100 years ago, and barring an upset they will struggle to breakthrough in Beijing.

Regional sides have had some success over the years, with Japan taking the bronze in 1968 in Mexico City, when they beat the host nation 2-0 in the play-off match.

And on three occasions Asian teams have finished in fourth place — India in 1956 in Melbourne, Australia in 1992 at Barcelona (they were then affifilated with Oceania rather than Asia), and Iraq four years ago in Athens.

But the ultimate prize has eluded Asia.

Once again, traditional heavyweights Japan, South Korea, and Australia are in the draw after coming through qualifying while China go in as hosts.

China is in a group with Belgium, New Zealand and one of the favourites Brazil, although the South American giants are without star midfielder Kaka after AC Milan refused to release him.

“Though Brazil is hot favourite of the group and is also the title favourite, I still hope we can make some trouble,” insists China coach Ratomir Dujkovic.

“We are playing at home and though we respect Brazil we will not give up.”

The top two from each group progress to the quarter-finals.

More than one billion people will be expecting China to shine, but the signs are not promising following the under 23 team's performance in the East Asian championships in February when they finished behind Japan and South Korea.

It led to calls for Chinese Football Association vice president Xie Yalong to be sacked, and his position could be under threat once again should they fail next month.

How Chinese fans behave will also be closely watched, especially if they meet Japan, w hich has been targeted in the past with taunts and abuse over its wartime atrocities.

And the Chinese players will also be under scrutiny with memories lingering of their notorious punch-up with London club QPR, dubbed the “Great Brawl of China”, during a friendly last year.

It was one of a number of incidents on their European tour, including reported clashes with Marseille's development team and Chelsea's second XI.

Japan is regarded as Asia's strongest team, with coach Yasuharu Sorimachi at the helm. But the Japanese will be missing influential Celtic star Shunsuke Nakamura needed for the start of the Scottish season.

Similarly, South Korea are without Manchester United's Park Ji-Sung.

Australia's men have never missed an Olympics since football was opened to professionals in 1988, and the Olyroos showed their mettle by coming through a tough final qualifying campaign against Iraq, North Korea and Lebanon.

Coach Graham Arnold, who led the senior team at last year's Asian Cup finals, believes his side can emulate its performance in Athens when the Olyroos went beyond the group stage.

“We know we can get through this group, we have history and also we have had such a tough schedule just to make it this far, which will hold us in good stead,” he said.

“Playing in Asia has taught us a lot about the conditions we will face in China and that could also give us an advantage.”

The Australians are grouped with defending champions Argentina, Olympic newcomers Ivory Coast and European qualifiers Serbia.

While age restrictions apply for the men, no such rules are in place for women, meaning top quality teams will be in action.

Since the introduction of women's football to the Olympics in 1996, the United States has won gold twice and Norway once.

The Americans will be a threat once again but North Korea and China made the quarter-finals of the World Cup last year.

Japan are Asia's other representative.

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