The men’s Olympic football tournament seems to get a bad rap and sure it will never live up to the World Cup, the pinnacle of international football. Nonetheless being essentially an under 23 tournament it’s a chance for young players to make a mark from all around the world.
In 1988 Romario won the golden boot in Seoul; Hernan Crespo at Atlanta 1996; Carlos Tevez in Athens 2004. In 1948 Gunnar Nordhal led the Swedish side to gold with 7 goals earning a move to AC Milan. He then went on to score just a measly 225 goals in 291 Serie A matches, the second highest tally of all time becoming a Rossoneri legend in the process.
So trying to avoid the obvious lures of Neymar or any of the over 23 players at the Olympics here is my top 10 players to watch in London.
10. Marco Rojas - New Zealand
Of Chilean descent the diminutive winger has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. Currently playing in the A-League for Melbourne Victory he has the potential to become one of New Zealand’s greatest ever players.
9. Hamdan Al Kamali - United Arab Emirates
The centre half tasked with stopping Uruguay’s feared strikeforce in Group A was voted amongst Spanish football magazine ‘Don Balon’s’ respected 100 best young players in the world shortlist. In January 2012 he signed a loan deal with French giants Lyon with a view to a permanent switch.
8. Kim Bo-Kyung - South Korea
Considered Park Ji-Sung's natural successor and with 14 full caps; at just 22 this energetic winger will be playing in the RED of Championship side Cardiff City in 2011-12 so fans of the ‘Bluebirds’ will be keen to see him in action.
7. Steven Caulker - Great Britain
Team GB; believe it or not; are the joint most successful team at Olympic football with 3 gold’s, level with Hungary. And one player trying to help them reach 4 is Steven Caulker. A successful loan at Swansea last season, the appointment of AVB and retirement of Ledley King could mean 2012 is Caulkers breakout year.
6. Marco Fabian - Mexico
The 22 year old attacking midfield player currently plies his trade for Chivas Guadalajara in Mexico but should be gracing European football very soon. With 13 goals in 12 Under 23 appearances for El Tricolor he is a must watch in London.
5. Gaston Ramirez - Uruguay
Linked with numerous clubs across Europe including Liverpool, Spurs and Juventus the winger comes off the back of a great season in Serie A with Bologna and has vowed to win gold for his country at the games.
4. Serigne Kara Mbodj - Senegal
Currently playing in the far North of Europe with Norwegian side Tromso this powerful 23 year old can operate in both defence and midfield. He has been linked with moves to Arsenal and Liverpool this summer and would fit the Premier League mould perfectly.
3. Leandro Damiao - Brazil
Linked with moves to Tottenham Hotspur and AC Milan he has been dubbed ‘the next Ronaldo’ by the man himself; a young sensation at Internacional in Brazil; with an exciting team supporting him a real favourite for the golden boot in London.
Looking to continue Spain’s dominance of world football on an Olympic scale are 2 players instrumental in a young Athletic Bilbao teams run to a Europa League final last season. With all the technical ability you have come to expect from Spain’s excellent crop of youngsters these 2 have been linked with big moves this summer. If anyone can pry them away from their Basque homeland they would have real quality on their hands.
Who else are you looking forward to seeing in London 2012?
Check out some of these players on YouTube and again at the Olympics; the football tournament starts next Thursday the 26th July with Uruguay vs. United Arab Emirates.
image: © henrikalexandersen