Olympic Soccer Schedule 2012: Complete Slate of Games for the Sport's Top Stars
Olympic soccer may not be quite on par with that of the World Cup or the European Championship, but it should still be exciting nonetheless.
The countries will still be going for gold, as women's soccer got underway yesterday and men's soccer began this morning.
Women's soccer will feature a number of the same teams you saw in the World Cup, while men's soccer will feature the U-23 national teams, with each team being allowed three players on the roster who are over the age of 23.
This article will take a look at five of soccer's biggest stars and when you can catch them in action.
Juan Mata, Spain
Coming off a title in Euro 2012 at the beginning of the month, Juan Mata will be back in action for Spain in the upcoming Olympics.
Mata, 24, is one of the three players older than 23 on the roster as La Roja began their quest for gold this morning against Japan.
Mata plays for Chelsea during the club season, and that's where most may know him from. With Mata, Jordi Alba and Javi Martinez, Spain should once again be right in the mix for gold.
Here is the schedule of their group matches:
July 26: Spain vs. Japan, 9:45 a.m. ET, MSNBC
July 29: Spain vs. Honduras, 2:45 p.m. ET
August 1: Spain vs. Morocco 12:00 p.m. ET
Following the group stage, there is an outside shot of a Spain/Brazil clash in the quarterfinals. These are the two teams that, in my opinion, are the best this tournament has to offer.
Ryan Giggs, Great Britain
More of a feel-good story than anything, Ryan Giggs at the ripe young age of 38 is competing in his first major international competition.
With the United States not having qualified and Great Britain appearing in their first Olympic Games since 1960, I'll be pulling for the home country in men's soccer.
Giggs, the longtime Manchester United midfielder, will be playing at Old Trafford for just the second time in a uniform aside from that of the Red Devils.
With the group not being overly tough and a potential quarterfinal date with Mexico, the Brits have a solid chance to earn a medal in front of their home fans.
Here's where and when you can watch the hosts in the qualifying round.
July 26: Great Britain vs. Senegal, 3:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
July 29: Great Britain vs. United Arab Emirates, 2:45 p.m. ET
August 1: Great Britain vs. Uruguay, 2:45 p.m. ET
One of the world's flashiest and youngest stars will try to make London 2012 his coming-out party, as the Brazilians are loaded with a rich array of talent.
From Neymar himself, to Hulk, Pato, Lucas and Oscar, Brazil is being regarded as one of the early favorites for this year's Olympic tournament.
A relatively weak group should enable this South American side to ease their way into at least the semifinals and possibly beyond.
Not only is Brazil one of the favorites, but with flashy players like Neymar, they should be one of the most exciting squads to watch as well.
Be sure to check out Neymar and Co. at the dates and times listed below:
July 26: Brazil vs. Egypt, 2:45 p.m. ET, MSNBC
July 29: Brazil vs. Belarus, 10:00 a.m. ET
August 1: Brazil vs. New Zealand, 9:30 a.m. ET
After an earlier-than-expected exit at the 2011 Women's World Cup, the Brazilians are back with a vengeance for London 2012.
Those feelings of frustration following the World Cup heartbreak showed through during a dominant 5-0 win over Cameroon yesterday afternoon.
Seemingly, the United States and Brazil are on a collision course to meet in the gold medal match. While I'm not quite sure what could top last summer's thriller, it would certainly be a fun one to watch.
Here's where you can catch Marta and the rest of the Brazil women in action as they attempt to erase any disappointment left over from last year.
There are two group matches remaining for each women's squad:
July 28: Brazil vs. New Zealand, 9:30 a.m. ET
July 31: Brazil vs. Great Britain, 2:45 p.m. ET
Abby Wambach, United States
After a come-from-behind win in yesterday's opening match, the United States women's soccer team is also out to erase some disappointment from the 2011 World Cup.
The Stars and Stripes captivated the hearts of an entire nation after Abby Wambach's unforgettable goal eliminated Brazil in the quarterfinals. However, Team USA fell short of their ultimate goal by losing a true heartbreaker to Japan in the final.
This year's tournament may be one of the best ever, with Sweden, Brazil, the U.S., Japan and France all having legitimate chances to bring home the gold from London.
Wambach is once again back as the heart and soul of the United States sides, and listed below are the times and dates of when the team will be in action.
Like Brazil, the Red, White and Blue also have two qualifying matches remaining.
July 28: United States vs. Colombia, 12:00 p.m. ET
July 31: United States vs. People's Republic of Korea, 12:15 p.m. ET