Australia and Olympic Football
Australia entered a men’s football team at Melbourne 1956 but did not compete again until Seoul 1988. They then made five straight Olympic appearances before missing out on both the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games. The side's best result was a superb fourth at the Barcelona Games in 1992.
Women’s football was added to the Olympic program in 1996 and Australia began competing at Sydney 2000. Australia placed fifth at Athens 2004 but did not qualify for Beijing 2008 or London 2012. After going undefeated throughout the final Olympic Qualification Tournament in Japan, the Australian women's side returned to Olympic competition for the Rio 2016 Games. The side qualified through to the quarter-finals where they set up a mouth-watering clash with hosts Brazil. As they went in search of the nation's first Olympic medal in the sport, the Aussie women went down in a heartbreaking penalty shootout.
The “world game” made its Olympic debut at Paris 1900, along with water polo, rugby, cricket, polo and tug-of-war. Since its introduction, football has missed featuring on the Olympic program only once, at Los Angeles 1932.
After World War II, the state-supported teams from Communist countries were permitted to play. The strength of those Eastern Bloc teams is evidenced by their credible performances in the World Cups, against the fully professional teams from Western Europe and South America soon after competing in the Olympics. In 1996 and 2000, the emergence of African football was seen with the gold medals going to Ghana in Atlanta and Cameroon in Sydney.
The eligibility criteria for Olympic football teams are constantly being debated. Olympic competition was initially limited to amateurs. In 1984 professional players from Europe and South America were restricted from playing Olympic football if they had competed in a World Cup. This was changed in 1992 with the decision to implement an age limit of 23, regardless of professional or amateur status.
Since 1996 three over-age players could be added to each squad. None of these age restrictions apply to women’s football teams.
Each nation can bring a squad of 11 players and 7 substitutes to the Games. The men’s tournament comprises 16 teams and the women’s 12. There are four pools of four teams in the men’s tournament with the top two teams in each pool progressing to the quarter-finals. The women have two pools of six teams with the top two teams in each pool after the preliminary matches progressing to the semi-finals.