It’s always an exciting time for fans of athleticism the world over, and it’s no different with the football on offer in Rio. But can the Westfield Matildas qualify through their group? It’s going to be tough; there is quality opposition right across Group F. 

The Football Sack will be providing extensive coverage of the football at the Rio Olympics 2016.

Canada

Road to Rio: After making their Olympic debut in 2008, Canada have now qualified for their third straight Games and head into Rio with a skip in their step. In 2012 they left London with a bronze medal a year after they captured gold in the Pan American Games.

They performed admirably as World Cup hosts last year and topped their group before they were knocked out in the quarter-finals by a talented England outfit. The Canucks will be seeking to get on the podium again to keep the momentum of the last few years rolling.

Canada certainly impressed during qualification. After they thumped Guyana (5-0), Trinidad and Tobago (6-0) and finally Guatemala (10-0!), Canada defeated Costa Rica to advance to the final and a date with the United States.

Although they fell to their great rivals once again after a 2-0 loss, Canada cemented their place in Rio as runners-up. Losing to the States may have stung the ego but Canada can look back on their campaign with pride.

Manager: John Herdman became Canada boss in 2011 after he spent just over five years in charge of New Zealand. Hired after the Canucks’ disastrous World Cup campaign that same year, the young Englishman was brought in to get Canadian football heading in the right direction.

He got them back on track from the get-go, winning gold at the 2011 Pan American Games to go alongside Olympic bronze in 2012. A fruitful World Cup campaign in front of home fans followed last year and since taking over he has been nominated for FIFA Coach of the Year in 2012 and 2015.

His players have thrived under his positive (both play style and mental approach) methods and he is as popular with his squad as he is with the Canadian public. So much so they can pull a prank on him every now and then.

Key player: Christine Sinclair. 230 caps. 162 (!) goals. What more do you need to say? Abby Wambach is the only woman in history to score more. She is arguably the best to ever pull on the shirt for Canada and perhaps one of the greatest to ever play the game.

The Canucks captain is important for more than just sticking the ball in the back of the net, even if she is bloody good at that. She has represented her country for more than 15 years and played in four World Cups and two Olympic Games. Her leadership and experience is invaluable to the Canadian squad.

Sinclair is a complete attacking player. Athletic, hard-working, intelligent, skilful and clinical. When she is on her game she’s very, very hard to contain. She grabbed three goals in qualifying and will be looking to add more to her haul in Rio. If she is fit and firing she could just lead her nation to further glory.

Verdict: They will push Germany and Australia hard for a top two finish, with the confidence that third place could just be enough to advance.

Australia

Road to Rio: The Matildas will end a 12 year absence from the Olympics when they compete in Rio and will arrive on a wave of positive momentum. Following on from their historic run in the World Cup last year where they knocked out Brazil, Australia qualified for the Games in equally ground-breaking fashion.

The Matildas started things off by defeating Japan in their own backyard for the first time and didn’t look back from there. They then thumped Vietnam by nine goals, defeated both North and South Korea and registered a draw against follow qualifiers China in their final game. Australia will take confidence in emerging as the strongest side in Asia with them to Brazil.

In their final warm-up game on July 24 Australia fell to Brazil 3-1. Despite taking the lead, the Matildas had to play 40 minutes with ten players after Katrina Gorry was shown a red card. They were eventually overcome. A small blip but one that should not cause alarm considering the circumstances.

Manager: Alen Stajcic took the reins in September of 2014 after a promising stint as caretaker in which he guided the Matildas to the final of the AFC Asian Cup. Before taking the top job, he led Sydney FC to two premierships in his six years at the club.

Stajcic doesn’t take anything less than complete commitment from his troops and has moulded a talented group of players into a cohesive unit in his short time in charge. He has begun to see results rather quickly.

Under his watch last year, the Matildas became the first Australian team to win a knockout game at a World Cup. He has since guided them to the lofty heights of 5th on the FIFA World Rankings. They might have just hit top form at the perfect time. 

Key Player: The Matildas will have plenty of talent on show but no one player personifies the Matildas spirit quite like co-captain Lisa De Vanna. She brings with her a wealth of experience. The striker is the only player in the green and gold squad to have been to an Olympics before, having featured in Athens in 2004. She has been a constant presence in the Matildas since then with over 100 caps, three World Cups and 39 goals to her name.

De Vanna will have some very talented young players under her watch in Rio and will lead right from the front. Her tenacity, fight, pace and uncanny dribbling ability make her a handful for any back line and she pops up with important goals on a regular basis. She has a knack for the spectacular as well.

De Vanna said she was “going to Rio with the aim of winning a medal.” They might not be anyone at the tournament more willing to fight for a podium spot than her.

Verdict: It’s a tough set of fixtures for the Matildas but they will feel confident they can advance to the next round after what they showed off in qualification, even if it may not be in top spot.

Zimbabwe

Road to Rio: Rio will be the first time Zimbabwe football will have a chance to shine on the world stage as they make their Olympic debut. The road to get there was a rocky one to say the least with a series of two-legged ties used to determine which African nations would qualify. They started their campaign by just scraping past Zambia on away goals and were all set to face Ivory Coast in the next round.

But the team couldn’t secure enough funding to travel to the away leg and FIFA dumped them out of qualifying. Their omission was soon overturned and another match set up between the two nations. But Ivory Coast withdrew from qualifying before it could be played, meaning Zimbabwe got a free pass to the final round.

It was there they beat Cameroon, again on away goals, to secure passage to Rio. It was an immense achievement for the Mighty Warriors and they now face a daunting Olympic group for their troubles.

Manager: Shadreck Mlauzi was only given the head job a few weeks before the crucial tie against Cameroon but guided his side through to become the first Zimbabwean team to do so in their history. He had previously coached at club sides North Rovers and West Swallows.

Mlauzi is well aware his squad will be unfancied in Rio and while frustrated with his lack of time to prepare his side for the occasion he won’t “cry over spilt milk.” He is focused on getting his side as fit as possible to give them an advantage over the technically better sides they are set to face.

This competition should be just a starting point in his tenure with the national team and he is confident he can take them to further glories in the future.

Key Player: Rudo Neshamba will be one to watch and the striker’s goals in qualifying were integral to Zimbabwe getting this far. She nabbed vital away goals against Zambia and Cameroon as well as the winner in the final game of the campaign to sink their continental rivals.

The 24-year-old journalism student is not backing down from her side’s tag as massive underdogs but conceded that it may just work in their favour with all “the pressure on the other sides”.

“That should allow us to play without pressure and approach our matches as we normally do, while they might underestimate us.” Neshamba has struggled with a knee injury in the lead up to Rio and her absence will be badly felt if she is forced to sit on the sidelines.

Verdict: They have worked wonders to qualify for the Olympics but they won’t get any further than the group stages.

Germany

Road to Rio: Germany make their return to Olympic competition in Rio after failing to qualify in 2012 and the European powerhouses will be eager to claim another medal to put that blip behind them. They claimed bronze in three consecutive Games in 2000, 2004 and 2008 and are always favourites to get on the podium.

They qualified for Rio as one of the top three European teams at last year’s World Cup. While they will have been disappointed not to have become World Champions for the third time, they were still mightily impressive.

After topping their group, they thrashed Norway, kept their nerves against France in a penalty shoot-out in the next round before losing late on to eventual winners America in the semi-finals. The Germans are hungry to earn more silverware and that was shown in their 11-0 demolition of Ghana in their final warm-up game before Rio.

Manager: Silvia Neid is used to winning. She earned over 100 caps for her country and won countless club trophies alongside three European Championships. Since taking over the top job in 2005 she simply carried on as a coach where she left off as a player.

She led her side to the World Cup in 2007, a bronze medal in Beijing and won back-to-back European titles in 2009 and 2013. Neid was named the FIFA World Coach of the Year in 2010 and 2013. But Rio will be her last chance to add to her legacy. After the Games she will step down as head coach to make way for German icon Steffi Jones. Good luck with that Steffi.

Neid did come under criticism when her team was knocked out by the United States at the World Cup last year. Some sections of the German press and even a few fellow coaches believed her to be too stubborn and inflexible when things weren’t going her way. On the back foot, they said, she had no plan B.

But if she can end her legendary stint as German boss with an Olympic gold, Neid will have the last laugh.

Key Player: Anja Mittag is one of a few German veterans who will be key to Germany’s Rio campaign. The striker plies her trade at Paris Saint-Germain and has been a prolific contributor to her national team’s success over the past decade.

She has scored 46 goals in 138 games for her country and has the ability to step up on the biggest stages. At last year’s World Cup she nabbed five goals and was named in the official team of the tournament. Mittag has carried form right into the opening game of the Rio tournament as she hit four goals in Germany’s recent 11-0 mauling of Ghana.

Verdict: There is a lot driving an already talented and experienced German side. They will be aching for revenge against the United States and determined to send Silvia Neid out on a high. Medal favourites.

SHARE
mm
Brisbane Roar and Tottenham Hotspur supporter. Jesus would have played in the hole. Follow me at @lochymci