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23.07.2004 Football News

Italians tipped to win soccer gold

By AP
Italians tipped to win soccer gold

The men's Olympic soccer tournament doesn't have the flair or prestige of the World Cup Finals, but it will have some of the best players on the planet and several World Cup veterans.

The Olympic tournament is for Under-23 teams, but each team is allowed three over-age players. Some senior national team players also fit the age requirement, meaning several teams have more than three top players in the squad.

The best example is Portugal, who have named Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo, new Chelsea midfielder Tiago Mendes, Porto striker Helder Postiga and Benfica goalkeeper Jose Moreira.

All four helped Portugal reach the final at the European Championship earlier this month.

Other big-name players include AC Milan playmaker Andrea Pirlo of Italy; Feyenoord midfielder Shinji Ono of Japan; Valencia defender Roberto Ayala and Barcelona forward Javier Saviola of Argentina; and new Porto defender Giourkas Seitaridis of Greece.

The deadline to name the 18-man squads and four reserve players for both the men's and women's tournaments was on Wednesday.

By playing in the Olympics, some European-based players will miss competitive matches with their clubs, including the opening of the English Premier League season.

Italy, who won the Under-21 European Championship for the fifth time in June, are considered to be one of the favourites.

Besides Pirlo, the Italian team will feature Parma striker Alberto Gilardino, Parma defender Matteo Ferrari and AS Roma goalkeeper Ivan Pelizzoli.

Italy will play Ghana, Japan and Paraguay in Group B, one of four groups of four teams.

Greece will feature two players that helped the men's team win the title at Euro 2004, Seitaridis and Dimitris Papadopoulos. But the Greeks will also have striker Yiannis Amanatidis, who impressed in the Bundesliga last season with Eintracht Frankfurt and Stuttgart.

In Group A, the hosts will face South Korea, Mali and Mexico.

Argentina, who have historically done well on all levels of soccer, will field another strong squad, using several Europe-based players besides Ayala and Saviola.

Fabricio Coloccini of AC Milan and Gabriel Heinze of Manchester United lead the way, but it may be time for rising star Carlos Tevez to impress those outside South America.

The Boca Juniors forward has made his way onto the men's team and helped lead Argentina over Colombia on Tuesday in the semi-finals of the Copa America.

Argentina will face Australia, Serbia-Montenegro and Tunisia in Group C of the Olympic tournament.

The final group appears to be Portugal's for the taking, but Morocco will be one of the four African teams hoping to win the third straight gold for their continent, after Nigeria and Cameroon. Costa Rica and Iraq are also in Group D. –

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