Soccer always looms large in Great Britain and a hometown Olympic crowd hopes its national team can make a surprise medal run at the 2012 Summer Games in London. When the Olympic team pairings were announced in April, Uruguay and star forward Luis Suarez immediately emerged as the biggest threat to derail the host's chances of a deep trip through the Olympic tournament.
The South American nation has carved out quite a resume on the pitch. Uruguay owns two Olympic gold medals, has dominated Copa América with 15 titles and finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup.
Uruguay joins Great Britain, Senegal and the United Arab Emirates in Group A, one of four groups that comprise the 16-team Olympic field. Each squad plays against the other three teams in its group one time apiece, with three points awarded for wins, one point for a tie and absolutely nothing for a defeat.
The best matchup in Group A is saved for last. Great Britain and Uruguay square off on Aug. 1 at 2:45 EDT. Great Britain brings high expectations into the 2012 Games, while Uruguay is participating in its first Olympic soccer foray in generations.
Remember those two Olympic gold medals won by Uruguay? They were earned in 1924 and 1928.
The national team has not participated in a Summer Games since the '28 Olympics in Amsterdam. Essentially, this team was the "Cinderella Story" of Olympic qualifying rounds, and helped prevent two-time defending Summer Games winner Argentina from making the trip to London.
Uruguay is led by Liverpool star Luis Suarez. He is the headliner of a talented group that has taken South America by storm.
The core of this team gained valuable experience by reaching the 2010 World Cup semifinals for the first time since 1970. That remarkable run carried over into 2011, when Uruguay won the Copa América.
Suarez, 25, scored four goals in Copa América competition, continuing to establish himself as one of the world's greatest forwards. Fans in London are familiar with his excellence after watching his rise to stardom with Liverpool.
Liverpool teammate Sebastian Coates joins Suarez on the national team roster. Fellow front-liner Edinson Cavani makes Uruguay a dangerous squad, under the leadership of Coach Oscar Tabárez.
“We have that fighting spirit in ourselves,” midfielder Álvaro González told the New York Times after Uruguay's surprising Copa América quarterfinal victory over Argentina. "Not just as Uruguayans, but in this team specifically."
Uruguay must be considered a sleeper in the Olympic tournament due to their extended absence for the Summer Games, which is an interesting contrast to the hype surrounding Great Britain.
The Brits haven't reached an Olympic tournament since the 1960 Rome Games and settled for a quarterfinal exit in June's 2012 UEFA European Championship. But when you're hosting the biggest sporting event on the planet, expectations elevate in accelerated fashion.
Ryan Griggs, a Manchester United legend, is the face of this team at the rip age of 38. Great Britain's captain understands the pressure that is on the Olympic host to make it out of Group A and advance in medal competition.
"I think it just got more and more exciting as the Games got nearer and then when the squads were announced I was obviously really, really proud to be involved," Griggs told ESPN. "We hope we can get gold. That is what the players are hoping for. The players are winners and want to do well. You want that gold medal."
The first step toward Olympic glory begins in group play and Uruguay is a huge obstacle. Although both teams are likely to secure the top two spots in Group A and advance, the difference between the those two slots is sizable.
After the preliminary round, the remaining eight teams are matched up in the Olympic quarterfinals based on their performances in group play. For Great Britain, a squad hoping to make its first significant impact on the Olympic stage in more than 50 years, a desirable draw in the quarterfinals is crucial.
We'll learn a lot about both Olympic upstarts when Uruguay and Great Britain do battle on Aug. 1. Until then, expect plenty of debate and speculation surrounding the premier programs of Olympics' Group A pairing.
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