U.S. Men Drawn into Group B with Netherlands, Nigeria and Japan
The U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team has been drawn into Group B of the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament, along with Japan, the Netherlands and Nigeria, and will based in Tianjin for its first two games before moving to the Olympic host city of Beijing to round out the first stage.
April 20, 2008
The U.S. will open against Japan on August 7 before facing the Netherlands on August 10, with both games taking place at the Olympic Sports Center Stadium in Tianjin. The team will then travel to Worker’s Stadium in Beijing to conclude group play against 1996 gold medalist and 2005 Under-20 World Cup champion Nigeria on August 13.
“It’s a difficult group, definitely, but that’s what we expect in a tournament that includes the top 16 teams in the world,” said head coach Peter Nowak. “They are very quality teams we will face and we have to be up to the challenge.”
The field of 16 teams is divided into four groups of four. The top two finishers in each group will advance to the quarterfinals. The tournament will take place across five venues – Beijing, Qinhuangdao, Shanghai, Shenyang and Tianjin. Shanghai and Beijing will host the Medal Rounds, which include the semifinals, Bronze Medal and Gold Medal matches.
The Netherlands hosted the European Under-21 Championships, and needed to advance to the semifinals to claim one of four European spots in Beijing. With consecutive 1-0 wins over Israel and Portugal, the Netherlands booked their ticket to China, and went on to win the tournament on their home soil by beating England in penalty kicks in the semifinal and fellow Olympic contender Serbia in the Final.
Japan will prove to be a difficult challenge for the U.S. in their second game. The two teams played in the quarterfinal round at the 2000 Sydney games, with the U.S. winning on penalties en route to its best-ever fourth-place finish. The squads also played early in 2007, drawing 0-0 in Kumamato on the USA’s two-game tour of the country.
Japan cruised through the opening round of their qualifying campaign, winning all six matches before entering the final stage. After a 1-0 victory against Qatar, a surprise 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia set up a crucial pair of games for the Japanese, who earned a 4-0 victory against Vietnam and a draw against Saudi Arabia to secure their Olympic berth.
"Japan was one of the best youth teams I've ever played," said U.S. goalkeeper Chris Seitz, who earned Sierra Mist Man of the Match honors in the teams' 0-0 draw on Feb. 21, 2007, in the Kirin Challenge Cup. “They were a very good squad and we were playing at their place, but I’d expect to see the same kind of team in the Olympics. It was a competitive match and we did well to get a tie there.”
Nigeria won gold at the Atlanta Games in 1996, and has found recent success at every youth level. The African nation will likely carry over a large part of the team that took second place at the 2005 FIFA Under-20 World Cup. They also won their third FIFA Under-17 World Cup in 2007, after taking home the trophy in 1985 and 1993. Traditionally one of Africa’s most successful squads, Nigeria had to wait until their last qualifying match, a 3-0 win over South Africa, to secure their place in the Olympics for the seventh time.
“Knowing our opponents and the schedule makes the whole process that much more exciting,” said U.S. forward Jozy Altidore. “We know how competitive it’s going to be, so now we know that whoever is lucky enough to make this team is going to have to work very hard to get as far as we can.”
The U.S. will be participating in its 13th Olympic Games on the Men’s side, earning their place by advancing to the final of CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying in March. The Americans finished the tournament with a 3-1-1 record, with their only loss coming to Honduras in overtime of the championship match. Both teams had already secured their ticket to Beijing, the United States defeating Canada in one semifinal while Honduras ousted Guatemala in the other.
In preparation for the Summer Games, Nowak will lead his team to the Toulon Espoirs Tournament in Toulon, France, from May 14-29. The 18-player roster for the Olympic Games will be finalized in late July.
Men’s Olympic Group B Schedule
|Aug. 7||USA vs. Japan||Tianjin (Olympic Sports Center)||5 p.m. / 5 a.m.|
|Aug. 7||Netherlands vs. Nigeria||Tianjin (Olympic Sports Center)||7:45 p.m. / 7:45 a.m.|
|Aug. 10||Nigeria vs. Japan||Tianjin (Olympic Sports Center)||5 p.m. / 5 a.m.|
|Aug. 10||USA vs. Netherlands||Tianjin (Olympic Sports Center)||7:45 p.m. / 7:45 a.m.|
|Aug. 13||Netherlands vs. Japan||Shenyan (Olympic Sports Center)||5 p.m. / 5 a.m.|
|Aug. 13||USA vs. Nigeria||Beijing (Workers' Stadium)||5 p.m. / 5 a.m.|