Europe aims to crush Africa's dream

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Europe's football superpowers aim to crush Africa's dream of a third successive football gold medal.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:04 IST
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Athens :

Europe's football superpowers aim to crush Africa's dream of a third successive football gold medal and restore the balance of power at the Olympics. Cameroon, in 2000, and Nigeria, in 1996, broke a run of European successes stretching back to the 1936 Games in Berlin Both the Indomitable Lions and Super Eagles failed to qualify for the 16-team finals in Athens. Looking strong This year, Africa have four representatives in Ghana, Mali, Morocco and Tunisia but it is the likes of Italy, Portugal and hosts Greece, still high on their Euro 2004 triumph, who are expected to be pushing for gold. Former World Cup winning hardman Claudio Gentile coached Italy to the European Under-19 title, the qualifying competition for Athens with a 3-0 win against Serbia and Montenegro. The Portuguese will also be amongst the favourites especially with Cristiano Ronaldo and new Chelsea signing Tiago as well as striker Helder Postiga, who scored the equaliser against England in the Euro 2004 quarter-final. While Ronaldo's club manager Sir Alex Ferguson was not happy the 19-year-old made no bones about him wishing to defy his Manchester United handler's wishes. Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity "Playing in the Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in the career of a football player," said the winger known as 'Mr Twinkle toes', who starred for Portugal in their run to the Euro 2004 final. Cameroon and Nigeria's failure to qualify this time around proved once again how hard it is for champions to mount a successful defence of their title. Only Hungary (Tokyo, 1964 and Mexico, 1968), Uruguay (Paris, 1924 and Amsterdam, 1928) and England (London, 1908 and Stockholm, 1912) have managed to win two successive golds in the 20 football tournaments held. Changing times Professional players were only allowed to take part from the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, before that the amateur competition was the domain of the Eastern bloc. Times have changed and the Olympics is attracting more and more pro players. Take the Argentinians. Twice World Cup winners, 14-times Copa America champions, but without an Olympic gold to boast of. Looking at the Argentinian squad, though, it would be hard to count against them filling the vacancy column in that medal haul. (PTI)

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