Olympics Soccer Draw 2012: Breaking Down Group C
In one of the most hyped Olympic soccer tournaments to date, the draw for the highly anticipated Group C in the London 2012 Games has been announced. Brazil, the top seed and favourite, will be taking on Egypt, Belarus and New Zealand.
With Olympic soccer—or rather "football"—coming home to where the sport began, many eyes will be on this summer's tournament as some of the best and most burgeoning players in the world descend on England's capital (and five other cities).
Group C seems to be one of the most straightforward, with soccer powerhouse Brazil a whopping 49 places above their next best opponent Egypt in the FIFA World Rankings.
However, it won't be easy for the Selecao, with stiff competition certain to come from Egypt—who have given Brazil a run for their money on a few occasions. Unknown footballing sides New Zealand and Belarus have the potential to spring a surprise.
The slides to follow are a breakdown of the news, teams and players from Group C, capped by a prediction of who will advance.
Additionally, here is Bleacher Report's overall analysis of the Olympic tournament on the heels of today's draw. Which stars will stand out? Here’s a look at 50 players – men and women – to watch once the competition kicks off.
For more information on the tournament as a whole, click here.
Players to watch: Neymar, Lucas Moura, Oscar dos Santos
Possible over-aged stars: Ronaldinho, Dani Alves, Thiago Silva
Past record: 2 silver medals (Los Angeles 1984, Seoul 1988), 2 bronze medals (Atlanta 1996, Beijing 2008), 11 appearances
One of the top seeds in the tournament—along with Spain, Mexico and hosts Great Britain—Brazil were already placed in Group C before the draw was announced, as chosen by FIFA.
The Selecao are considered favourites for the tournament given the players they have at their disposal—the Spain and Great Britain teams will be affected by Euro 2012—and the fact they have the best Olympic record—despite never winning gold.
Manager Mano Menezes—who manages Brazil's senior team as well as the U23s (i.e. Olympic squad)—has named a provisional squad of 52 players, and surprisingly has included a staggering 16 over-aged players, a number which will be whittled down to just three to fit in with Olympic rules.
One over-aged player likely to be at London 2012 is Ronaldinho, who's excelling back in Brazil with Flamengo, having scored four goals and made six assists from 11 games in 2012.
Like David Beckham for Great Britain, Ronaldinho is determined to keep his international career alive, with the FC Barcelona legend hoping to use the tournament as a springboard to playing in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which will be hosted in Brazil.
The exclusion of Real Madrid star Kaka and AC Milan's Robinho from the Olympic squad list has surprised many, but given the sheer talent Menezes has to work with, it's no surprise Brazil are favourites to win their first ever gold medal in Olympic soccer.
A whole host of star names—including Neymar, Alexandre Pato and Ganso—from the Selecao will be on display, but other young stars back in Brazil such as André Ribeiro, Marquinhos and Dudu are also expected to feature.
Players to watch: Marwan Mohsen, Mohamed Salah, Hossam Hassan
Possible over-aged stars: Ahmed Elmohamady, Ahmed Hassan, Mohamed Aboutrika
Past record: 0 medals, 11 appearances
A veteran at the Olympics, Egypt has qualified for its 11th appearance at the tournament.
And the Pharaohs are the team most likely to challenge Brazil in Group C, also having a relatively successful U23 side.
The North African team have warmed up for the Olympics with a ton of friendlies against the U23 sides of Romania, Uzbekistan, Spain and Costa Rica, and will play Uruguay tomorrow. They've also played Swiss club side FC Basel as well as the senior Egypt team.
It's a competition the Egyptian FA take seriously, with head coach and Egypt legend Hany Ramzy keeping a largely unchanged squad of 32 players throughout the numerous friendlies—meaning there are unlikely to be many over-aged players in contention this summer, with the country trying to bring through the next generation of talented stars.
And ahead of the Olympics, Egypt's U23 team will play eight more warm-up matches (after the Uruguay match) spanning two tournaments—the Toulon Tournament (famous for uncovering new, international talent in world football) and the Arab Nations Cup—as well as a friendly with two other qualified teams, Switzerland and their group opponents Brazil (a highly valuable scouting exercise for both sides).
One key player the Pharaohs will no doubt be calling on throughout those games and in the Olympics will be star striker Marwan Mohsen, who for the U23 team has scored 19 goals in 25 matches, and for the senior side has three goals from two games.
Players to watch: Alyaksandr Hutar, Mikhail Sivakov, Dzmitry Baha
Possible over-aged stars: Alexander Hleb, Yuri Zhevnov, Anton Putsila
Past record: 0 medals, 0 appearances
Having qualified for their first ever Olympic football tournament, the only thing Belarus will probably have in their favour this summer is the unknown factor.
That, and the form of their star goalkeeper in the U23 side, Alyaksandr Hutar, who keeps stick for the country's biggest and most famous club, BATE Borisov.
Because apart from that, the side coached by Dinamo Minsk legend Heorhiy Kandratsyew—who's also in charge of the senior Belarus team—will most likely struggle this summer given their form heading into the tournament.
Having lost 4-2 away to the United Arab Emirates U23 side—a team who have also qualified for the Olympics and are in Group A—and 3-2 at home to a Russia B team, Belarus could only manage lackluster draws against another Russia B team and a Saudi Arabia B team.
And to put their likely impact at this summer's tournament into perspective, in their most recent match, the Belarus U23 team drew 2-2 with a club side from Russia.
That side was Ural Sverdlovsk Oblast, a team in the Russian second-tier, in a game watched by 50 people.
Players to watch: Jake Gleeson, Ian Hogg, Marco Rojas
Possible over-aged stars: Ryan Nelsen, Winston Reid, Shane Smeltz
Past record: 0 medals, 1 appearance
New Zealand, like Belarus, are another team who seemingly have no hope of getting out of the group stages.
However, if the "Oly Whites" are to pull off a miracle, it'll probably be down to over-aged star and Tottenham Hotspur centre-back Ryan Nelsen, who will captain the side this summer.
Well, it'd be down to him and upcoming goalkeeping star Jake Gleeson, the 21-year-old Portland Timbers shot-stopper who's currently proving himself as one of the best talents in Major League Soccer, and previously had trials at Manchester United and Everton.
And semi-professional defender Ian Hogg might also play a role, given that he was an ever-present as New Zealand qualified for the Olympics by winning the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) U23 Championship, commonly known as the OFC Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Defensive duties and a catenaccio style of play are key for the Oly Whites. That was proven in qualifying as they conceded just two goals in their four matches, grinding out 1-0 wins over Papa New Guinea and Fiji, beating Vanuata 3-2 and thrashing Tonga 10-0.
With Australia not taking part in the event, it's clear that New Zealand were always going to have too much quality not to make it to the Olympics.
However, they most likely won't have the quality to make it any further than the group stages.
After all, considering this team struggled to victory against Vanuatu, Papa New Guinea and Fiji, then what hope do they have of beating Egypt or Brazil?
Brazil are no doubt strong favourites to win Group C, and most likely will top the group.
Egypt will probably finish second, and whilst New Zealand look set to put up some fight with their traditionally strong defensive style of play, the Oly Whites aren't likely at all to make it past the group stages.
As for Belarus, it would appear they have no hope whatsoever.
For Brazil, Neymar will probably have a field day in at least two of the three games, while Egypt's Marwan Mohsen could come close to him in the goal-scoring stakes, given how he loves to play at U23 level.
Also, expect the English-speaking Lucas Moura to put in a good showing at London 2012, as he tries to impress the various Premier League sides currently courting him like a hot chick in a nightclub.
For New Zealand, their defence could catch the eye of European scouts, and just like Winston Reid earned a move to West Ham United after the 2010 World Cup, another talented defender from the country could be set for a glamorous move to Europe after the tournament.
Overall, it seems likely Brazil will top the group, Egypt will come second, and Belarus and New Zealand will battle it out for third and fourth respectively.
Then again, as the cliché saying goes, never say never in football.