Olympics football is the original international football tournament. In fact, when the lines between amateur and professional status became increasingly blurred, it was the Olympic tournament that inspired the formation of the World Cup. A men’s football tournament has been included in every Olympiad except in the 1896 and 1932 games, giving us plenty of historical data to work with.
As far as recent Olympic champions go, the landscape is not just extremely bare, but barren. None of the last four gold medallists will be competing in London this summer with 2004 and 2008 champions Argentina failing to qualify and previous winners Cameroon (2000) and Nigeria (1996) also falling by the wayside in qualifying.
It is the Spanish, who won the gold in front of home fans at Barcelona ’92, who are the most recent winners involved this time. Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique, Santiago Canizares and Albert Ferrer were amongst those involved in that 1992 squad.
Unfortunately for patriotic British punters, however, Spain’s win on home soil was a rare anomaly; that was in fact the only occasion since 1920 when the host nation have been triumphant. Great Britain did, though, take gold in the 1908 London Olympics. Team GB are quoted at odds of 10.00 for gold and 3.15 to claim a medal of any colour this year.
Hungary are, perhaps surprisingly, the most successful nation in Olympic football with three gold medals. However, of the nations competing at London 2012, it is Great Britain (1908 and 1912) and Uruguay (1924 and 1928) that have had most historical success. Uruguay are priced at 8.00 for gold this summer, and 2.75 for a medal of any colour.
Tournament favourites Brazil have sent a strong team to these games as coach Mano Menezes uses the tournament as preparation for the upcoming World Cup in Brazil. Although the Olympics may no longer be a noteworthy international football tournament in Europe, the South Americans are significantly more focussed on winning gold.
Brazil’s failure at previous Olympic tournaments (they have never won gold) is a sore point, made all the more painful by Argentina’s recent back-to-back triumphs. But they do have an extremely good record of picking up medals at the games; they’ve taken either bronze or silver in four of the last five Olympics tournaments that they have competed in. They are a short 1.35 for a medal in London.
Making it out of the group stages has proved to be a difficult task for those staging the games in recent years. Only Spain, when they won gold in 1992, have managed to get out of their group recently, with China, Greece, Australia, the USA (twice) and South Korea all falling at the group stages at their own games in the last 30 years. Drawn in a difficult group alongside Uruguay and Senegal, Great Britain are priced at just 2.30 to win the group and 1.25 to qualify for the knockout stages. Both bets are worth avoiding based on recent trends.
History also tells us that a solid group stage is extremely important in the pursuit for a gold medal. Since the group stages were introduced in 1960 the team that has won gold has finished either top or joint top (same points as group winner) at every Olympics. Uruguay are 2.10 favourites to top Group A, Mexico are 2.40 for Group B success, Brazil are at 1.13 to win Group C and Spain are available at 1.22 to do the same in Group D.