Sunday, 29 July 2012

Olympics - Part 1

Women's Olympic Football Tournament - Group F
Saturday 28th July 2012
@ City of Coventry Stadium [Ricoh Arena], Coventry

I know a lot of people have been critical of the Olympics being awarded to London, but personally I am massively in favour of it. This opinion is rather obviously swayed by the fact that I love watching sport whether it be cycling, rugby or american football, though it you are reading this association football or soccer is my main passion sports wise. 

Right from the start it was my intention to try and get some tickets for the football tournament plus hopefully some for an event at the Olympic Park. When the original application process for hopefully getting tickets came around, three requests were made: 1) football @ Coventry; 2) handball and 3) athletics. The football was a side issue as I was more interested in the latter two as the chance to experience the Olympics first hand is something that will probably never happen to me again. Rather unsurprisingly the only successful ticket application was for the football and the chance to go down to London for the games was gone. A few months later and some more football tickets were purchased, this time for a men's quarter final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Then a few months ago I got in from work one morning and heard on the news that there was to be some more tickets released for sale. Online I went and managed to get two tickets for the handball preliminaries for Friday August 3rd, which after the hassle and then disappointment of the original ballot was very straight forward and simple. Details of the visits to Cardiff and London to follow in parts 2 and 3.

For the football tournament I believe originally Villa Park in Birmingham was to be one of the six venues, but the club (Aston Villa) withdrew due to having work done on the pitch during the summer. The Ricoh Arena, or City of Coventry Stadium as it is to be known for the games was chosen as a replacement. I was not fussed as I had not visited either stadium anyway. The tickets that I managed to get were the cheapest available which was £20 and this was for two games. Which nations would be on show was not important but as it turned out we would be watching the current world champions (Japan), Sweden, Canada and South Africa. Women's football has only been an Olympic sport since the 1996 games in Atlanta. The record of the four teams involved today are as follows:

yearJapanSwedenCanadaSouth Africa
19961st round1st rounddid not qualifydid not qualify
2000did not qualify1st rounddid not qualifydid not qualify
2004quarter finals4thdid not qualifydid not qualify
20084thquarter finalquarter finaldid not qualify

The current FIFA world rankings sees Japan in 3rd place, Sweden in 4th, Canada in 7th and South Africa the rank outsiders in 61st. The opening games in the group were played on Wednesday and both went as expected. Japan beat Canada 2-1 with first half goals from Nahomi Kawasumi and Aya Miyama, with Melissa Tancredi getting the Canadian goal on 55 minutes. Sweden went top of the group with a 4-1 demolition of South Africa. Goals from Nilla Fischer, Lisa Dahlkvist and Lotta Schelin gave them a three goal cushion at half time. A Portia Modise goal on the hour mark pulled a goal back, but Sweden's three goal advantage was restored three minutes later when Schelin got her second goal of the game.  

The stadium is very easy to find being only a short distance off junction 3 of the M6. It opened in 2005 and has a capacity of 32,609. Parking around the stadium for the matches were for either officials or if spectators had reserved it in advance. Considering the attendance was less than half the originally stated capacity organisers seemed to struggle with this. In the end we parked about 3/4 mile away near to the M6 motorway.

The security aspect was something that has been well documented in the press leading up to the games, and this (in my opinion) over-the-top approach was how it was. All possessions which including credit cards, cameras and even money had to be put in clear plastic bags to get into the stadium. When inside the stadium the majority of people simply put their possessions back into their own bag(s) and discarded the plastic ones. 

The atmosphere inside was that of a friendly and party nature with plenty of families in attendance along side the visitors from the four countries involved as well as the more hardened football fans. Not surprisingly the Japanese had the largest following spectator wise and number of photographers. Chants of "Nippon Nippon" broke out numerous times during their game against Sweden. Some of the Canadians were quite creative with their comments, with "there's only one Justin Bieber" in particular. During the second half the football team was amusingly nicknamed "The Biebers", though I somehow doubt that Canadian Football Association will make it official!!!! 

 Game 1

This was the better of the two games despite the lack of goals. The Japanese dominated the game for the most parts and showed why they are the world champions. The passing, movement and one touch football were a pleasure to watch and left the Swedes chasing shadows. Despite their dominance the only saves Sweden keeper Hedvig Lindahl were comfortable and did not give her much concern. Sweden had both a height and physical advantage but on the times they did get forward the Japanese defence looked assured and dealt with things with the minimum of fuss.

Game 2

Any doubts about a second nil-nil of the afternoon were put to bed very quickly as the Canadians opened the scoring on seven minutes. A ball across from the right was guided past the South African keeper by Melissa Tancredi, though having seen the goal again to tv I thought Thokozile Mndaweni should have done better to keep the ball out. My consensus then was that the Canadians would push on and increase their advantage, but the South Africans got into the game more with Mpumi Nyandeni being dangerous. The South Africans nearly equalised following a mix up in the Canadian defence but the ball hit the top of the bar and went over. The second half saw the South Africans come at the Canadians but just before the hour mark it was 2-0. A cross from the left was headed goal wards by Christine Sinclair. It hit the underside of the bar and appeared to cross the line, but Sinclair reacted quickest to make sure. It was then only a matter of time before Canada increased their lead further and with seven minutes remaining Sinclair got her second of the afternoon. A through ball pierced the South African defence and she coolly beat Mndaweni with a low side footed shot.

Admission: £20 
Programme: £5 (football tournament)
Attendance: 14,753   

Some more photos of the ground and fans can be viewed below:
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