LONDON/CARDIFF: Women’s football kicks off the entire London 2012 Games when Great Britain play New Zealand, not even in England, but in Wales at Cardiff on Wednesday.

Some 216 players make up the 12 competing squads competing over 19 days up to the   final on Thursday, August 9, at Wembley. Before then come another 25 matches held across the six host cities of London, Cardiff, Coventry, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow.

Players on view include FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Homare Sawa from Japan along with her closest rivals for the award in United States’ Abby Wambach and Brazil’s Marta.

Favourites are the American holders, winners of three of the four women’s Olympic tournaments to date and silver medallists in the one that got away – against Norway at Sydney 2000.

Another bad omen for the Nadeshiko is that no national team have won the Women’s World Cup and then claimed Olympic gold the following year. Even so, the extraordinary progress made by Japan’s senior women’s side gives them every right to dream of improving on their best performance to date in the competition: fourth place at Beijing 2008.

Germany, Women’s World Cup hosts last year and bronze medal winners in 2008, are absent after losing to Japan in the quarter-finals then. They had been one of only five countries to have appeared in all four previous editions of the Olympic women’s tournament. China also miss out so BrazilUS and Sweden are now the only nations to have competed in every edition of the tournament since the inaugural event at Atlanta 1996.

Newcomers are Great BritainCameroonColombiaFrance and South Africa.

Top spot in the all-time goalscorers’ standings is  one of the landmarks under threat. Germany’s Birgit Prinz and Cristiane of Brazil currently share first place with 10  goals apiece so the latter will have the opportunity to add to that tally for the Canarinha.

These are also the only two players to score hat-tricks at the event, a feat Cristiane has achieved on two occasions.

Should Brazilian duo Formiga and Tania make an appearance at the Games they will become the only players to have taken part in every edition of the Olympic competition so far. Over and above that, however, the Auriverde squad will be desperate to finally clinch gold, having had to make do with silver at both Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008.

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