On the eve (not literally) of the Olympics, we know you are all thrilled. How often does one team have the opportunity to win every major trophy in a row (we’re not counting the Confederations Cup, to be sure)? Steffi Graf is the only athlete to complete something of this nature (the Golden Slam of 1988, all four majors plus the Olympics). If they just imported the entire Miami Heat squad and allowed them to represent the US in basketball, well, you see what I mean. So, despite the Olympic soccer competition normally being nothing more than a ballyhooed set of U-23 exhibitions, at least one team has something more significant in mind. For today, we give you, in reverse order, the ten best teams competing at the London Olympics. Keep in mind that when this list was compiled, the final line-ups were not out.
10) Senegal, FIFA Ranking 61*. A new-comer to most major tournaments, Senegal will be participating in the Olympics for the first time. Their U-23 team boasts a relatively small number of prospects, bolstered by the likes of elders Mohamad Diame (West Ham) and Dame N’Doye (Copenhagen). Drawn into a tough group (with Uruguay and Great Britain), any qualification into the knock-out stages would be a surprise. Although, with the massive amount of expectations placed on the shoulders of GB, you never know what bizarre iteration of team dynamic will play out.
9) Egypt, FIFA Ranking 36. This is it folks. Bob Bradley’s MAJOR TOURNAMENT DEBUT. Wow, I’m just so excited to see what team he runs out with… Wait, you mean Bob has nothing to do with the U-23 squad? It’s a different guy? Nevermind.
8) Japan, FIFA Ranking 19.The Japanese U-23s are scattered in clubs throughout Japan and Germany, mainly. The top cap winners have about 20 or so. Generally speaking, I might be inclined to leave them off this list. But the Japanese always seem to come to a tournament prepared and drilled, so I won’t count them out.
7) Switzerland, FIFA Ranking 16. According to Wikipedia (a notoriously reliable source), none of any of the call-ups for the Swiss U-23 team have any caps. I doubt that somehow. Unfortunately, other than Ben Siegrist, a back-up keeper for Aston Villa, I don’t have any knowledge of anyone on their team. That said, I’m ranking them 7th because, let’s face it, their gonna get two 0-0 draws and a 1-0 win, qualify, and then be knocked out by a significantly better team.
6) South Korea, FIFA Ranking 30. By the Wes Pickard Metric for Ranking Teams I Don’t Know Much About, South Korea comes in higher than the previous four on the basis of actually recognizing a few players on their squad, be it Park Chu-Young of Arsenal or Ji-Dong Wan of Sunderland (as well as a strong shout for name of the tournament, Oh Jae Suk). Also, there are a higher average number of caps per player on this team than any of the previous one, leading me to make the somewhat unsupported conjecture that they are a more tournament ready team. South Korea have been a huge ball of potential energy since the 2002 World Cup. Why shouldn’t this be the tournament where they break through?
5) Mexico, FIFA Ranking 21. Everyone on this team, with one exception (Gio Dos Santon, who is unbelievably still of age to participate in this tournament) plays in Mexico. Invoking the Barcelona-Spain theory of international team sports, this has to give Mexico an edge over a team like Switzerland, where players are sprinkled through Europe like cherry cordials in a box of chocolates. That, an ancient Carlos Salcido giving the team veteran leadership, and being placed in the weakest possible group makes Mexico a relatively mortal lock for qualification through to the knock-out rounds.
4) Uruguay, FIFA Ranking 4. You mean to tell me that two of the world’s best strikers (Cavani and Suarez), two pillars of a hugely successful Copa America run, two guys that undoubtedly strike fear into the heart of 98% of all centerbacks will be playing on a U-23 team in a weak(ish) competition for a (somewhat) symbolic soccer trophy? Yikes. Watch out world. The only reason they are this low is…
3) Brazil, FIFA Ranking 6. Brazil’s been a mess for a long time now. They’ve disappointed in every tournament since 2002. That’s ten long years of suffering an Austin Powers-style mojo. Why are they favored over Uruguay? They have an absolutely STACKED line-up: Hulk, Neymar, Pato (if he can, you know, keep himself intact), Thiago Silva, Rafael Da Silva, and Marcelo. On top of a lot of other (probably awesome) young talent. The X factor: Brazil have got to get themselves together before 2014. Why not start now? More like, they NEED to start now or … else?
2) Great Britain, FIFA Ranking N/A. OK, so, if a thousand people read our blog, about 600 would give me grief over ranking GB so high. Hear me out. 1) One of the stronger lineups in the tournament, between Bellamy, Giggs, Ramsey, Cleverley, and Micah Richards; 2) They are playing on home soil in a weakened tournament. Normally, I’d say absolutely not to a 2) seeding for GB in any tournament. But a weakened tournament on home soil? Gotta go for the Britishers (specially now that Andy Murray has the whole country collectively in tears).
1) Spain, FIFA Ranking 1. Yeah, yeah, yeah. The obvious pick. I pretty much explained this in the opener. Wise gamblers have learned not to bet against the Roja in recent years. That said, we’ll have to see if the Spanish can get it done once again without the majority of the core (Xavi, Iniesta, Ramos, Casillas, Fabregas, and Busquets) which has won them so many trophies.
*We know that a) FIFA Rankings are a terrible metric, and b) they are for the national team, not the U-23 team, but isn’t it somewhat fair that a nation’s FIFA ranking might somewhat indirectly hint at the overall footballing ability of that nation? No? Screw it, we’re including it anyway.