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The Olympic Games is renowned for featuring only the very best competitors.

Strict qualifying standards ensure it attracts only the top athletes - the creme de la creme fighting it out for the right to claim the mantle as the world�s best.

But football (or soccer as it�s more commonly known in Australia) is unusual among Olympic sports because its Olympic program does not represent its pinnacle.

Sydney 2000 will not feature the best football players on the planet. That claim is reserved for football�s World Cup, arguably the biggest sporting event in the world.


Video Australia's men's and women's soccer teams with both face tough first round matches in the Olympics. Nino Tesoriero reports.
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AudioOlyroos coach Raul Blanco speaks to Bruce Atkinson about the draw.
[WMP]  [Real]

AudioJohn Thompson-Mills reports on the Olyroos' four-nations campaign in January.
[WMP]  [Real]

AudioThe youngest member of the Australian women's team, 17-year-old Kate McShea, talks to Ross Solly about her meteoric rise to the Matildas.
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AudioRoss Solly interviews Australian women's soccer player Bryony Duus on her comeback to the national team after major knee surgery which saw her dropped in 1999.
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Because of this, the Olympic soccer program for men is restricted to players under 23 years old, although each nation is allowed to also include three players over that age in their squads.

However, exactly how this is achieved is unclear - the ugly club versus country tug-of-war over Socceroo and Leeds United star Harry Kewell has illustrated how difficult it is to have players released from club duties in Europe.

Beginning in mid-September, the Olympic football program would put Europe-based players out of club action for around a month at the beginning of the club season, which is bound to be frowned on.

Women also feature in the Olympic football program, but no such age restrictions - apart from a minimum age limit of 16 - apply in their competition.

The Format

The men�s competition in Sydney will feature 16 teams, while eight teams will make up the women�s draw.

Because of the size of the program, and the need for rest periods between matches, the football tournament begins early - before the opening ceremony - in order to finish before the Games are drawn to a close.

Football is also the only sport on the Olympic program to be played outside Sydney, with Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne hosting matches.

However, the final will be played at Stadium Australia for the men, and the Sydney Football Stadium for the women.

While Australia qualifies automatically as host nation, the other sides in the men�s competition were required to compete in regional tournaments in order to make it to Sydney.

Italy, Spain, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Nigeria, Morocco, Cameroon, South Africa, Honduras, Chile, Brazil, South Korea, Japan, Kuwait and the United States have qualified.

In the men�s competition, the 16 teams are divided into four pools.

Group A comprises Australia, Italy, Nigeria and Honduras; group B features South Korea, Spain, Morocco and Chile; group C pits the United States, the Czech Republic, Cameroon and Kuwait against each other while group D contains Brazil, Slovakia, South Africa and Japan.

After a round-robin tournament, the top two teams from each pool advance to quarter-finals, and a knock-out format begins.

The women�s competition is similar, with two pools playing a round-robin format to decide which four teams advance to the semi-finals.

The top seven finishers at the 1999 World Cup will join Australia in the women�s Olympic draw. Those teams are the United States, China, Germany, Sweden, Nigeria, Norway and Brazil.

Australia joins Germany, Sweden and Brazil in its group while the United States, Norway, China and Nigeria will clash in the other pool.

The Teams

Both Australian squads will be hoping that home town support can sweep them onto the podium in Sydney.


Traditionally, Australia has a very good record at youth level in football, highlighted by the under-17 Australian side�s excellent performance in last year�s World Cup, in which they lost the final to Brazil in a penalty shoot-out.

Football authorities believe Australia is capable of producing young talent the equal of any in the world, and therefore hopes are high for a medal in Sydney.

The Australian Olympic squad, known as the Olyroos, has been together preparing for the Games for three years under the guidance of coach Raul Blanco.

Over that period, its performances have been encouraging, if not outstanding.

But two recent tournaments hosted in Australia illustrate the magnitude of the task ahead of them.

In 1999, Brazil sent what was largely an Olympic team to Australia to play two matches against a full-strength Socceroo side - and the Brazilians completely outclassed the hosts.

This January, the Olyroos hosted Nigeria, 1996 gold medal winners, South Korea and Egypt in the first of two four-nations tournaments in the lead-up to Sydney.

The Olyroos acquitted themselves well against Nigeria and Egypt, but were humbled 3-0 by South Korea in what was effectively the tournament�s final.

Another problem will be the recruitment of the three "over-23" players allowed in the squad.

Australia has some world class players strutting their stuff in Europe - but the difficulty will be in securing their releases from club duty.

Just about any national side would welcome the addition of players like Celtic striker Mark Viduka, Manchester United goalkeeper Mark Bosnich and Fiorentina defender Paul Okon - but they will no doubt be put under enormous pressure by their employers to declare themselves unavailable for the tournament.

Then there�s Leeds midfielder Harry Kewell who qualifies for the Olyroos because he will not be 23 when the Olympic tournament begins.

Over the past two seasons in England�s Premiership, Kewell has developed into a genuine star.

He is one of the most exciting midfielders in the Premiership - and has a happy knack of finding the back of the net.

Blanco would love to have Kewell in the side for Sydney, but for that to happen, Kewell will have to place country ahead of club.

Football�s world governing body FIFA has ruled that clubs which do not release players for the Olympic tournament are not allowed to use them for club matches over the same period, but even this may not sway Leeds.

What if Kewell were to pick up a serious injury while on Olyroo duty? Leeds would lose one of its key assets at the beginning of a Premiership campaign.

Of course, the fact that Kewell is such a star gives him some leverage - if he demands to be released, and sticks to his guns, the club may have no choice but to accede.

That remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure - the presence of Kewell in the Olyroo side would significantly enhance its medal prospects come September.

All the usual suspects will be among the medal chances in Sydney.

Brazil will probably lead the charge, but Argentina and Germany will also be among the challengers, along with at least one surprise packet African nation.


Late last year the Australian women�s soccer team, the Matildas, pulled off a major coup when they launched a nude calendar.

The publicity was enormous, the calendar becoming a sell-out, despite a legal hiccup over the use of the word "Olympic" which raised the ire of the Australian Olympic Committee.

But early in the new year whispers about the "curse of the calendar" began to circulate as members of the Matildas� calendar squad began to drop out of the Olympic program.

The Matildas have lost a number of players, due to the pressure of coping with life as full-time athletes.

Based at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, the squad lives, breathes, eats and drinks football. And for some, that commitment is too much.

The United States will be the red-hot gold medal favourites in Sydney after its penalty shoot-out victory over China in last year�s World Cup final.

At the Australia Cup four-nations tournament in January, the US underlined its strength by sending what was virtually a development squad - the A team was unavailable due to a pay dispute - and still won the tournament.

In the process, the US downed the hosts 3-1. Australia had mixed fortunes in the other matches, beating the Czech Republic 3-0 but losing 2-0 to Sweden.

The Matildas will play a number of pre-Olympics internationals in August as the Games draw near.

Ranked number eight in the world, but improving fast, the Matildas will be hoping to better their performance in last year�s World Cup, in which they finished seventh.

With the support of a home town crowd, a medal-winning performance is not out of the question.

The Matildas in full: Dianne Alagich, Sharon Black, Bryony Duus, Alicia Ferguson, Alison Forman (captain), Heather Garriock, Kelly Golebiowski, Peita-Claire Hepperlin, Sunni Hughes, Kate McShea, Julie Murray, Cheryl Salisbury, Bridgette Starr, Anissa Tann-Darby, Leanne Trimboli, Sacha Wainwright, Tracey Wheeler, Amy Wilson.

back to ABC Online
© 1999 Australian Broadcasting Corporation

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The world�s most popular sport, football is an 11-a-side contest played on a grass field around 100m long and 70m wide divided into two equal halves 50m long.
The field, or pitch, is made up of two sidelines (100m long) with a goal-line at either end (70m long).
Each team defends a goal, located in the centre of the goal-line. The goal is 2.44m high and 7.32m wide.
Each half of the field includes a penalty area and a goal area. The penalty area is a rectangle marked by lines running perpendicular to the goal line and beginning 16.5m from the outside of each goal post, and a line parallel to the goal line 16.5m inside the field of play.
The goal line is a similar rectangle beginning 5.5m from each goal post and extending 5.5m from the goal line into the field of play.
A match takes 90 minutes, divided into two 45-minute halves with a 15-minute interval.
The object of the game is to score more goals than the opposition. Ten of the players on each side can use any part of their bodies except their arms and hands to control and pass the ball.
The goalkeeper on each side is allowed to catch and touch the ball, but only within his team�s penalty area.
If a defender kicks the ball back to a goalkeeper, he or she is not allowed to pick it up, but must kick it.
Before the game begins, a coin is tossed. The winner can choose which direction to run in, or may decide to kick-off.
The kick-off, which must go forward, takes place at the centre of the halfway line. This central point is surrounded by a circle, the centre-circle, 9.1m in diameter.
Opposition players cannot enter the centre-circle until the ball has been kicked off. All 11 players must stay on their own side of the half-way line until the ball is kicked off.
After each goal, and at the beginning of the second half, the game is restarted with a kick-off. The team which was scored against kicks-off after a goal, while the team which didn�t kick-off in the first half does so in the second.
A goal is scored when the entire ball crosses the goal-line within the goalposts and under the crossbar, unless an infringement has been committed by the attacking team in the move leading up to the goal.
Infringements lead to freekicks and penalties. Fouls generally involve interfering with other players, particularly when tackling. Players must play the ball, not the man.
When a freekick is awarded, the defending players must remain at least 10 metres away from the spot from which the freekick will be taken.
If a defender commits a foul within his or her penalty area, a penalty is awarded. In this case, the ball is placed on a penalty spot 11 metres from the goal.
Only the goalkeeper and the player taking the penalty are allowed inside the penalty area for the kick.
The goalkeeper is allowed to move laterally - ie, along the goal-line - but cannot move forward until the kick is taken.
Players who commit serious fouls or who persistently commit fouls are warned by the referee. A first warning results in a yellow card, for a second warning, a red card is produced, and the player is sent off.
A player who is sent off cannot be replaced. A serious foul may warrant an immediate red card.
Freekicks are awarded for offside play. An attacking player is offside if there is less than two defenders (usually one outfield player and the goalkeeper) between him or her and the opposition�s goal.
A player cannot be offside in his or her own half, nor can a player who is behind the ball be offside. In addition, a player cannot be offside if he or she receives the ball direct from a throw-in, a goal kick or a corner kick.
The position of the attacker is relevant when the ball is passed - in other words, if an attacker runs into an offside position to collect a pass, he or she is not offside if he or she was in an onside position when the ball was passed.
A player can be in an offside position without incurring a foul if the officials deem he or she was not interfering with play.
When the ball leaves the field of play, play is restarted with a throw-in if it crosses the sideline and either a goal kick or a corner kick if it crosses the goal-line.
For throw-ins, the team that did not touch the ball last restarts play with an overhead throw from the point where the ball left the field. A player taking a throw-in cannot touch the ball again until it has been touched by another player.
If an attacking team puts the ball over the goal-line, the defending team restarts with a goal kick.
To do so, the ball is placed on the ground inside the goal area and kicked - usually upfield. It cannot be touched by another player until it leaves the penalty area.
If a defender puts the ball over the goal-line, an attacking player restarts play by kicking the ball in from the point where the sideline meets the goal-line on the side of the field in which the ball crossed the goal-line.
During the round robin section of the tournament, the points for matches are shared if they are drawn.
But during the knock-out stages, drawn matches must reach a resolution, using extra-time and, if necessary, penalty shoot-outs.
In a match is drawn at full-time, two 15-minute periods of extra-time are played - the team which scores first during this time (a golden goal) is the winner.
If the deadline is not broken during extra-time, a penalty shoot-out is held. Each side nominates five penalty takers, and once the 10 penalties are taken, the team which has scored the most wins.
If the teams are still deadlocked, the shoot-out moves into sudden-death mode, with one player from each team who has not already taken a penalty stepping up to perform.
In this mode the first team to score and prevent the opposition from scoring is the winner.
Over the course of a match three substitutions are allowed. A player cannot rejoin the action once he or she has been replaced.