The British soccer team will play its first Olympic soccer game in 52 years when it takes on Senegal in the opening match of the men’s tournament at London 2012.
The teams will play at Manchester United’s Old Trafford on July 26 following today’s draw at Wembley Stadium in London. The United Arab Emirates and Uruguay are the other teams in group A.
Interim England national team manager Stuart Pearce is in charge of Team GB, which last played at a games in 1960. He can choose players from the so-called home nations of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Soccer’s governing body, FIFA, said the combined team wouldn’t change the separate nation’s ability to play in international tournaments.
“We are hoping home advantage will play a big part and the opportunity to showcase our sport under the Olympic umbrella is fantastic,” said Pearce, who may also lead the England national team to the European Championships, which finish about three weeks before the start of the Olympics. “I’m busy scouting players’ form and fitness: they are the two drivers.”
The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish soccer federations remain opposed to a united team and have advised their players not participate. Pearce said he’s not under pressure to include a quota of players from any one country.
“No one has guided me in regard to picking home nation players, English, or certainly individual players,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned it’s form and fitness that will dictate what the squad will be.”
In the women’s soccer tournament, Britain will play Cameroon, New Zealand and Brazil, while Japan, Sweden, South Africa and Canada are grouped together. The U.S., the defending Olympic women’s champion, takes on France, Colombia and North Korea. The top two teams from each group and the two best third-placed teams move to the quarterfinals.
While the women’s Olympics competition doesn’t restrict players by age, squads for the men’s tournament will be limited to Under 23s and three older players. Former England captain David Beckham, 37, is on Pearce’s current 80-man shortlist.
Beckham helped U.K. officials lobby for London when it beat New York, Paris and Moscow to the games in 2005 and has said he wants to participate. Pearce said he’ll travel to watch Beckham play for the Los Angeles Galaxy in a May 2 match with the Seattle Sounders.
About 1.5 million tickets remain unsold for the soccer competition. That’s led to suggestions the local organizing committee may push for Beckham’s inclusion to boost sales.
Duty to Britain
“He will be treated in the same way as every other individual, young or over age,” said Pearce. “The main proviso is that I’ve got a duty of care to Great Britain to try to win a gold medal.”
Ronaldo, Beckham’s former teammate at Real Madrid, and the man with the most goals in World Cup finals, said the Galaxy midfielder should be selected.
“If I was the manager I definitely would because he would guarantee quality and efficiency,” Ronaldo said. “Just last week he scored a beautiful goal for the Galaxy from outside the box into the top corner. He really looks after himself so despite his age I think he could contribute.”
England names its European Championship squad on May 10, three days before the close of the Premier League season and it’s expected that Pearce will choose the Olympic roster about a week later.
Brazil, a record five-time winner of the World Cup, has never secured Olympic gold. Ronaldo, who got a bronze medal in Atlanta in 1996, said capturing the title has become a national obsession.
Brazil is in group C alongside Belarus, New Zealand and Egypt. Mexico, South Korea, Gabon and Switzerland are in Group B. World Cup holder Spain, Honduras, Japan and Morocco make up Group D. The top two teams from each group move to the quarterfinals.