Olympic Sport Lowdown: Football

The inclusion of football at London 2012 has drawn much criticism, with some arguing that the game will divert attention away from the core Olympic events. Nevertheless the prospect of a Great British squad — combining players from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — is a tantalising one. Add to that some of the world’s most promising talents, and both the men’s and women’s competitions should be brilliant spectacles.

Did you know that men’s football has been included in every Olympiad except 1896 and 1932? The women’s game was finally added to the programme in 1996.

Both British teams will be managed by Londoners: Hammersmith’s own ‘Psycho’ Stuart Pearce, and the current England women’s manager, Lewisham-born Hope Powell.

The last time a major football tournament was held in Britain was Euro ’96. In the Quarter-Finals at Wembley Team GB manager Stuart Pearce scored in a penalty shootout to help England knock out Spain. His crazed celebration after converting the spot-kick epitomises the spirit we should expect from his team this summer.

The men’s competition will be an under-23s event, but each country is allowed to select three older players. This has led to much speculation that David Beckham will be included in Pearce’s squad. There are no age restrictions on the women’s competition.

Olympic Football will travel around Britain with games also being played in Cardiff, Coventry, Glasgow, Manchester and Newcastle. London’s skyline-dominating colossus Wembley Stadium will be the tournament’s hub, hosting the finals of the both the men’s and women’s competition.

Due to the large capacities of the stadium tickets are still available for many of the games. With some of the world’s best on show get booking now.

Did you know that London 2012 is the first Olympics since 1972 in which Team GB have included a football team?

Players to Watch:

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Team GB Men’s): Arsenal’s eighteen year-old winger has had a tremendous 2012 so far. Bought last summer from Southampton, ‘The Ox’ had to bide his time before bursting into the team in January. The youngster has explosive pace, quick feet, and a tactical brain which belies his years: if not included in England’s Euro 2012 squad he will be one of Team GB’s main weapons.

Kelly Smith (Team GB Women’s): Strong, mobile and clinical in front of goal: Smith is a world-class striker. However England’s all-time record goalscorer is struggling with an ankle injury and faces a race against time to be fit. Hope Powell needs her number 10 back if Team GB are to have a chance of claiming gold.

Neymar (Brazil Men’s): The Santos forward is the hottest prospect in the game at present. With a dizzying array of skills and a huge mohawk the twenty year-old Brazilian is impossible to miss. Expect his dancing feet to light up The Games.

Where can I play football in London?:

The capital is full of opportunities to get your boots dirty. Five-a-side, seven-a-side and eleven-a-side leagues are run every evening across the city, and there are also Saturday and Sunday day leagues. For more information on clubs near you speak to your local council or London Football.

We’re bringing you the Londonist lowdown on all Olympic and Paralympic sports in the run up to London 2012.

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