Updated: Mon, 19 Mar 2012 21:13:56 GMT | By pa.press.net

FOOTBALL

The Olympic Games has often provided the platform for future stars of world football to showcase their talents on the global stage.


A footballer makes a pass. (© Press Association)

A footballer makes a pass.

Football

The Olympic Games has often provided the platform for future stars of world football to showcase their talents on the global stage.

In recent years, the competition has featured the likes of Robinho (Brazil), Lionel Messi (Argentina) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), all of whom have grabbed the headlines at the very top of the game.

Barcelona icon Messi, for example, inspired his nation to gold in the men's competition at Beijing 2008 at the age of 21 - before going on to be named the FIFA World Player of the Year three times in a row.

The men's Olympic football competition is effectively run as an under-23 World Cup, with teams allowed to select only three players over the age of 23 in their final squads.

Many countries use the Olympics as a way of giving young players tournament experience ahead of playing in continental championships or the World Cup. However, the presence of professional players at the Games was only seen for the first time in 1984.

To that point, only amateurs were allowed and the competition was dominated by countries such as Hungary and the Soviet Union.

The sport was first played as a demonstration event at Paris 1900 and again at St Louis 1904, and it was not until London 1908 that the first official medal event was staged.

The women's competition, meanwhile, was not added to the schedule until Atlanta 1996 and does not feature the same age restrictions as the men's event.

In the setting of the Olympics, there is little discernible difference from the sport that is played competitively in more than 200 countries worldwide, as two teams of 11 players battle it out over the 90 minutes of action.

In the men's event, 16 teams are split into four groups with the top two from each qualifying for the knockout stages. In the women's competition, 12 teams play in three groups, with the top two plus the two best third-placed teams progressing.

Extra-time and penalty shootouts are used to decide drawn matches during the knockout stages.

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