Sydney's Games: A Bluffers Guide

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Football will kick off two days before the opening ceremony. Preliminary matches for the 16 men's and eight women's teams are scheduled for Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne. By limiting men's teams to a maximum of three players 23 years or over, Games rules open up the competition to a mix of rising stars.

The men's teams are divided into four pools: A) Australia, Italy, Nigeria, Honduras; B) Korea, Spain, Morocco, Chile; C) U.S., Czech Republic, Cameroon, Kuwait; D) Brazil, Slovakia, South Africa, Japan. Members of each pool will be paired off, with the winners advancing to the quarterfinal. Four-time World Cup winner Brazil is the most formidable outfit, despite eight unsuccessful attempts to win gold at the Olympics. Italy, the European under-21 champions, are expected to shine, as are Spain and Nigeria, the only African nation to win a football gold medal.

The eight teams are divided into two pools: E) Australia, Germany, Sweden, Brazil; and F) U.S., Norway, China, Nigeria. Two winners from each pool will advance to the semifinals. As reigning Olympic and World Cup champions, the U.S. are the team to beat, but China won't be lacking incentive, having lost to the Americans both in Atlanta and at last year's World Cup. Brazil are also contenders.


Men's final Sept. 30

Women's final Sept. 28