Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Thu 24 April 2008

Beijing 2008 - First Round draw

Further to my recent article 'Beijing Bound' which told you all about the countries that had qualified for the 2008 Olympic Football tournament, here's news of how the First Round groups were drawn out in the official ceremony which took place on Sunday.

Group A
Ivory Coast, Argentina, Australia, Serbia
Defending champions Argentina might be forgiven for thinking they've got a relatively easy path through to the next round. Though none of their three Group A opponents are pushovers in any way, Argentina should nonetheless secure a safe passage to the quarter finals where they'll play the runners-up in Group B.

That means the runner-up spot in Group A should make for a more interesting fight. For my money, I'd have to go for Serbia as the team to take the remaining place, purely because (in general) the youth development setup in Europe is of a higher quality than elsewhere. I'm prepared to admit I'm wrong, however, as African teams do tend to do well in this competition.

Schedule:
Aug 7 - Australia v Serbia, Ivory Coast v Argentina; Aug 10 - Argentina v Australia, Serbia v Ivory Coast; Aug 13 - Ivory Coast v Australia, Argentina v Serbia.

Group B
Netherlands, Nigeria, Japan, USA
This is arguably the most open group of the lot, but if any team has some sort of pedigree to go all the way, it's Nigeria. The 1996 Olympic football champions and 2008 African Cup of Nations quarter finalists will be strongly backed to do well in Group B, and I feel they'll do that support justice by finishing top.

The team finishing as runner-up in the group (and facing the unwanted task of almost certainly meeting Argentina in the next round) is not easy to identify. Japan have been known to reach the quarter final stage before and in the Netherlands and the United States you have two sides with promising young players ready to catch the eye. For me though, I'd have to go with the Netherlands.

Schedule:
Aug 7 - Japan v USA, Netherlands v Nigeria; Aug 10 - Nigeria v Japan, USA v Netherlands; Aug 13 - Netherlands v Japan, Nigeria v USA.

Group C
China, New Zealand, Brazil, Belgium
This group should be completely wrapped up by the time the final round of games are played on August 13th. Hosts China and many people's favourites Brazil have two relatively weak opponents in the shape of Belgium and New Zealand, therefore I see no other outcome than the former pair taking the two qualification places ahead of the latter.

China will no doubt have vociferous home support, but Brazil, looking to capture their first Olympic title, should overcome that. I'd guess they'll have attained the more superior goal difference by the time they meet in the closing pair of games in Shenyang, so my money's on Brazil to finish first, China second, Belgium third and New Zealand fourth.

Schedule:
Aug 7 - Brazil v Belgium, China v New Zealand; Aug 10 - New Zealand v Brazil, Belgium v China; Aug 13 - China v Brazil, New Zealand v Belgium.

Group D
South Korea, Cameroon, Honduras, Italy
An intriguing range of teams line up for Group D. Cameroon and Italy have both won gold in previous competitions and may very well be the two qualifiers here ahead of Honduras and South Korea who in themselves should be a tricky obstacle to overcome.

Honduras managed to stop Mexico from reaching the Beijing games and South Korea, like Japan, have proved they have the ability to progress beyond the first round, but without doubt it'll be Italy and Cameroon that set the pace in Group D. While Italy will be wanting to improve on the bronze medals they won in Athens four years ago, Cameroon will be aiming for the top step of the medal rostrum which they occupied in 2000. It shouldn't be too far beyond their reach, and if nothing else I favour them to top the group at least.

Schedule:
Aug 7 - Honduras v Italy, South Korea v Cameroon; Aug 10 - Cameroon v Honduras, Italy v South Korea; Aug 13 - South Korea v Honduras, Cameroon v Italy.

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