Five tales of Olympics past

1908, 1928, 1948, 1968 and 1988 all proved to be vintage years in the history of the Men's Olympic Football Tournament, and provided that the 20-year pattern continues, we can expect some thrilling action in Beijing in a few days' time. To whet your appetite for the big event, looks back at the highlights of those five golden competitions, from the inaugural tournament in 1908 to Igor Dobrovolski's six-goal haul in 1988.

London 1908 hosted the first official Men's Olympic Football Tournament. Two of the original seven entrants dropped out and with France fielding two teams, a total of six sides took part in the event. The two first-round matches saw Denmark and Great Britain rack up huge wins, with the Danes beating France B 9-0 on 19 October and the host nation thrashing Sweden 12-1 the following day. On the very same day the 1,000-strong London crowd witnessed the biggest ever scoreline recorded in an Olympic match when the Scandinavians sent the France A team packing with a massive 17-1 win. Sophus Erhard Nielsen bagged six goals in that match alone for the Danes, including three in the opening six minutes.

Uruguay were the masters of all they surveyed at Amsterdam 1928 after running out 2-1 winners against Argentina in the first all-South American final in the history of the Games, The real heroes of the tournament were Italy, however. After seeing off France 4-3 they then put seven past Spain following a replay, only to go down 3-2 to the eventual champions in the semi-finals. Nevertheless, the Azzurri found consolation in the bronze medal match when they hammered Egypt 11-3. Apart from the scoreline, the game was also notable for the fact that Angelo Schiavio, Elvio Banchero and Mario Magnozzi all scored three times for the Italians to complete a rare hat trick of hat tricks.

London 1948 marked the return of the Olympic Games and the Men's Football Tournament after a 12-year absence caused by the Second World War. And there was plenty to keep the crowds entertained with 102 goals being scored in a mere 18 games, an average of 5.66 goals per match. The only encounter to feature less than three goals was Great Britain's 1-0 defeat of France, with three matches ending 5-3 and a nine in all containing six goals or more. Great Britain with seven, Denmark with six, and Sweden with five were the sides with the highest number of different goalscorers over the course of the competition.

Mexico City 1968 proved to be the most tense of all Olympic Football Tournaments, thanks to events both on and off the pitch. Following a series of incidents throughout the competition, reigning champions Hungary eventually took the gold medal to become only the third side to retain the Olympic title. The only other members of the club to that point were Great Britain, the winners in 1908 and 1912, and Uruguay, who took the 1924 and 1928 crowns. In helping his side to the double, Magyar defender Deszo Novak picked up his third medal after winning bronze in 1960 and gold in 1964 - quite an achievement for a footballer.

At Seoul 1988 the Soviet Union became the last Eastern Bloc country to win the tournament. The eleven editions between the end of the second world war and the Seoul Games were dominated by teams from behind the Iron Curtain. The only other nations to win gold in all that time were Sweden at London 1948 and France at Los Angeles 1984, a competition weakened by the absence of East Germany, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. In the 1988 tournament three strikers stood tall over their opponents, each recording an average of more than one goal a game. Leading the way was Brazil's Romario with seven in six games, followed by Zambia's Kalusha Bwalya with six in four, and Russia Igor Dobrovolski, who bagged six in six, including the goal that cancelled out Romario's opener in the final.

Even though one hundred years have now elapsed since the inaugural competition, the Men's Olympic Football Tournament continues to fascinate fans around the world. The question is, who will prevail at Beijing 2008? Will it be Argentina, who certainly have the resources to join the select band of nations who have successfully defended the title? Or will neighbours Brazil, boosted by the presence of Ronaldinho, finally claim their first gold medal? Perhaps Italy, blessed with a generation of young talents, can put an end to their 72-year drought. Or maybe the African contingent will confirm their recent pre-eminence and add another medal to their tally of two golds and a bronze in the last four competitions.

Whatever happens, we will surely be looking back fondly on Beijing come 2028.