With the exception of men’s soccer (which limits each squad to three over-23 players), the Summer Games are not only the story of amazing individual athleticism but also a display of the world’s greatest teams on an international stage.
Ten gold medals will be doled out to ten of the world’s greatest national teams, so here’s a quick refresher on which countries to watch out for, with gold medal matches starting today on the women’s side in field hockey, water polo, and soccer.
On the men’s side, Team USA, chock full of NBA All-Stars, is the heavy favorite and will take on Argentina tomorrow. The U.S. defeated the Argentines by 31 in the preliminary round and should advance with relative ease to the gold medal match.
On the other side of the bracket, Spain looks for sweet revenge after Russia came back from 17 points down to stun the Spaniards 77-74 in group play. Despite the absence of injured point guard Ricky Rubio, Spain was still touted as the U.S’s biggest threat for the gold and has the best inside pair in the tournament with the Gasol brothers.
However, Russia’s Andrei Kirilenko has been as good as anyone so far in leading his national squad to a Group B victory, so Spain will need to play their best game in order to possibly set up a rematch of the 2008 Olympic final in Beijing,
For the women, the United States defeated Australia 86-73 this morning and await their opponent in the gold medal match. Though it wasn’t easy, with Australia leading 47-43 at the half before a 16-6 U.S. run to start the third put the Americans up for good.
Both Russia and France narrowly escaped their quarterfinal games to advance to the semifinals, with both squads winning by just three points. France is undefeated so far in the tournament but has been anything but dominant in their victories.
Australia was generally considered the second-best team in the field, and with today’s victory, it looks like the U.S. women will take gold, barring a massive upset.
For the men, Mexico and Brazil will take the pitch on Saturday in a Latin American showdown. Neither nation has ever won Olympic gold in soccer, but with Mexico’s win over Japan in the semifinal, they clinched their first-ever medal in the sport.
Brazil’s Neymar has looked like the next international soccer icon so far, and Saturday’s match could be his coming-out party on the road to the 2014 World Cup.
After joint-hosting the 2002 World Cup, Japan and South Korea will be connected in soccer again as they square off for the bronze medal tomorrow.
Women’s play ends today and is already off to an exciting start. After a stoppage time goal by Team USA's Alex Morgan ended their gold medal hopes in the semifinals, the Canadians got a last-minute goal of their own as Diana Matheson’s long strike in the second minute of stoppage time gave Canada a 1-0 victory over France.
The bronze is Canada’s first medal in a traditional team sport since 1936, making it definitely more than just a consolation prize.
In the gold medal final, Japan and the U.S. took the field in a rematch of last year’s World Cup final. Japan won that match in a penalty shootout, but the United States avenged 2011's defeat in a thrilling 2-1 victory.
Japan's Yuki Ogimi made things interesting with her 63rd minute tap-in, but a frenetic defensive effort in the following 30 minutes held off an equalizer.
Carli Lloyd scored early in both halves, but the hero of the game was goalkeeper Hope Solo, who bailed out the American defense with several incredible saves.
The semifinals of the men’s competition begin tomorrow, with Bulgaria taking on Russia in the opener.
Both squads have played well in these Olympics and will put on a show in a tightly-played, highly competitive match.
Meanwhile, Brazil is the top-ranked team in the world and should romp over Italy, who eliminated the American squad in a sweep yesterday.
Brazil is looking well on their way to gold, and the winner of Bulgaria/Russia will need a surprise performance to prove otherwise.
For the women, the United States swept South Korea this morning by a score of 25-20, 25-22, 25-22 to advance to the gold medal match.
The U.S. are the unquestioned favorite for the gold, especially with the return of captain Lindsay Berg after missing the quarterfinals with a leg injury. They have lost only two sets all tournament.
Still, they will be challenged by Brazil, who swept Japan and has stepped up their game just in time after a mediocre group play performance.
Croatia hammered the United States 8-2 in the quarters to advance the semifinals to face upstart Montenegro.
Meanwhile, traditional power Serbia will look to improve upon their bronze in Beijing when they take on Italy tomorrow.
On Sunday, expect a Balkan showdown between Croatia and Serbia in the gold medal final.
In the women’s gold medal final, the United States defeated after a slow start, and wins the nation's first ever gold in women's water polo after settling for silver in Beijing.
After taking an 8-2 lead into the fourth quarter, Spain scored twice early in the period to make a little bit of excitement, but the veteran American squad held on for an 8-5 victory.
In a match overshadowed by the women's gold medal match going on at the same time, the United States made it 2/2 today for American squads aiming for gold.
In what was one of the more bizarre moments in the pool, Australia’s goalie lost the goal while running out the clock in regulation in the bronze medal game and Hungary sent the game into overtime. Australia recovered to win 13-11, should have never needed six extra minutes of suspense.
In a sport that has become its popularity and following soar to new heights in these Games, excitement reigned in the quarterfinal matches.
France defeated Spain 23-22 on a buzzer-beating shot by William Accambray to keep their hopes of repeating as Olympic champion alive, but will have their hands full against against undefeated Croatia in the semifinals.
On the other side of the field, Hungary upset reigning silver medalist Iceland 34-33 after a last-minute penalty save. They will take on Sweden, who beat Denmark 24-22 and is also looking for their first Olympic gold in men’s handball.
For the ladies, Norway took another step in defending their Olympic title by defeating South Korea. Led by world player of the year Heidi Loke, the Norwegians 31-25 victory mirrored their 2008 defeat of South Korea in the semifinals.
Montenegro surprised the top-seeded France in a 23-22 quarterfinals victory, while Spain advanced over Croatia. Their semifinal match is currently underway. Either way, Norway should be the favorite for gold at this point.
For the men, Germany gave Australia its first defeat of the Games with their 4-2 win earlier today. The Netherlands finished group play with an unblemished 5-0-0 record, and are well on their way to thrashing the British for a berth in the finals.
The female side for the Netherlands already is in the final, scoring on their fifth penalty shot in a shootout in order to beat New Zealand 3-2. Meanwhile, Argentina will be in the final on their captain Luciana Aymar’s birthday after taking down the British 2-1 yesterday.
No matter who wins, they’ll become the first squad to win a gold medal on a blue field. One has to be a pioneer somewhere.