10 Best Individual Olympic Football Performances Ever
The 2012 Summer Olympics are upon us and the men's football event will be one of the most widely watched events around the world over the coming weeks.
Whilst the biggest prize on offer is of course Olympic gold, only one team will manage to achieve the feat—but along the way, individuals have the chance to make a name for themselves with good performances in a major tournament.
Many an international career has been propelled into success and recognition by starring first in the Olympics, almost a halfway house between under-21 level and full international selections.
Here are the top 10 performances in Olympic football memory.
Carlos Tevez, Argentina, 2004
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Argentina in 2004 took what might be one of the finest all-time Olympic squads to the games, and wound up with the gold medal, their first ever.
The under-23 players in the squad consisted of the likes of Javier Mascherano, Javier Saviola, Lucho Gonzalez and plenty more—but it was Carlos Tevez who was the undoubted star of the tournament, perhaps just ahead of Mascherano.
The then-Boca Juniors forward smashed in no less than eight goals to finish as top scorer of the tournament.
Argentina finished top of their group, scoring nine and conceding zero. Tevez scored three of those and then added a quarterfinal hat trick and a goal apiece in the semifinal and final to his tally.
Jurgen Croy, East Germany, 1976
picture from goalkeepersaredifferent.com
East Germany's first-choice goalkeeper in the 1976 Olympics of Montreal, Canada.
Not only did he lead his team to the gold medal, but he kept three clean sheets and conceded just two goals in the entire tournament, one of which was a late penalty kick in the semifinal.
The only goal in the entire Olympics he conceded in open play came from Polish legend Grzegorz Lato, who scored a consolation for his nation in the 3-1 final defeat.
Croy was a huge figure of some stature in his own right, keeping goal for East Germany in the 1-0 win over the West, in the only recognised game between the two nations.
Sergey Andreyev, Soviet Union, 1980
Andreyev's goal comes just prior to the 39-minute mark.
One of the Soviets' big successes came in the 1980 Olympics, when they reached the third/fourth-place playoff.
The video shows the second half of that match, where Sergey Andreyev scores the second goal which made it 2-0 with only a few minutes left on the clock.
Nice a finish though it was, the goal hardly bears worrying about—except for the fact that it was a remarkable fifth goal for the Soviet Union's top scorer, in just six games.
Andreyev rattled off a hat trick past Cuba in an 8-0 win in the group stage and added further strikes against Venezuela in the group stage and then Yugoslavia in the third/fourth-place game.
Ivan Zamorano, Chile, 2000
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Not a winner this time, but Ivan Zamorano lit up the 2000 Olympics with his aggressive style of play and hugely exuberant manner of celebrating goals.
This was something fans got to see on numerous occasions as Zamorano plundered six goals during the competition, including a hat trick against Morocco.
His Chile side finished above Spain in the group stages and trounced Nigeria 4-1 in the quarterfinals, with Zamorano of course on the scoresheet.
They fell at the semifinal hurdle, losing 2-1 to eventual gold medalists Cameroon, who score twice in the final six minutes.
Celestine Babayaro, Nigeria, 1996
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Celestine Babayaro was already linked with moves to a bigger club when he played in the 1996 Olympics, but the left-back made a real name for himself with his tenacious and adventurous displays.
Nigeria went on to win against all expectations, beating Argentina 3-2 in the gold-medal match, in which Babayaro scored the first goal for his nation.
Playing for Anderlecht in Belgium at the time, the defender was soon snaffled up by Chelsea.
Angel Di Maria, Argentina, 2008
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Four years after Tevez and co. in 2004, Argentina successfully defended their Olympic gold title in Beijing 2008.
The South Americans yet again had a wealth of attacking talent at their disposal including Leo Messi, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Sergio Aguero.
All three did well, but the man who stood up and was counted with important goals when it mattered most was Angel di Maria.
The former Benfica winger scored an extra-time winner in the quarterfinal against Holland, before stepping up to score the title-clinching goal in the final itself, in a 1-0 win over Nigeria.
Kalusha Bwalya, Zambia, 1988
For Zambia to even get out of their group at the 1988 Olympics was a huge achievement; to do so by beating Italy 4-0 and finishing top of the group altogether was a massive success.
The same scoreline against Guatemala and a draw against Iraq sent the Chipolopolo through top with five points, when a win was still only worth two points back then.
A quarterfinal humbling at the hands of bronze medalists West Germany meant that was as good as it got for the Zambians, but even that progress was remarkable given the resources available to them.
National hero and legend Kalusha Bwalya was, as always, the springboard for their success as he hit six of their 10 group-stage goals, finishing as joint second top scorer.
Bwalya is a national figure and proved his worth in a sporting and cultural sense again at the '88 Olympics; you can read more of his achievements in football and for his country in general here.
Nwankwo Kanu, Nigeria, 1996
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Nwankwo Kanu has had a long, varied and distinguished career, but he perhaps saved his very finest moments for the green shirt of his national side Nigeria.
In 1996 he helped carry his team to Olympic gold, overcoming the much-fancied Brazilians and Argentinians on the way.
Kanu scored the only goal of the game in the first group-stage match, beating Hungary 1-0, but it was in the semifinals when he really shone.
In an epic match against Brazil—who had beaten Nigeria 1-0 in the group stage—the Super Eagles turned around a 3-1 deficit after half an hour to force extra time, Kanu netting a late, late equaliser.
That wasn't enough though, and just four minutes into extra time he popped up with a "golden goal" to immediately send his nation into the final.
Kiko, Spain, 1992
Kiko was the man and the striker who finally helped Spain get their hands on a winning title.
Back in 1992 before Xavi, Casillas, Iniesta and the rest he helped a team containing the likes of Josep Guardiola, Santiago Cañizares, Alfonso Perez and Luis Enrique to Olympic gold in his home country.
Spain waltzed easily through a group with Qatar, Egypt and Colombia conceding a combined eight goals, with Kiko twice on the scoresheet.
In the knockout stages he made his name famous throughout the land as he scored the winner against rivals Italy in the quarterfinals and then, even better, scored two second-half goals including an injury-time winner in the final itself.
Spain beat Poland 3-2, and Kiko was a national treasure.
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Performance No. 10 is reserved for the big player of the 2012 Olympics in Great Britain—and the backing goes to Brazil's Neymar to show up big time and take the accolade.
Brazil will be one of the favourites going into the tournament, but arguably behind current world, European and under-19 champions Spain.
If they are to overcome and finally be the team to prevent Spain from winning everything, then Neymar is going to have a lot to say about it.
It promises to be an exhilarating and exciting few weeks and the spectacle of the men's football event should be one of the tournament highlights.
Bring on those individual performances which help lead to Olympic gold.