Old heads primed for action

Sometimes there is no replacement for experience. Just ask the coaches of the 16 finalists at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament, who have had the opportunity to include three players over the age of 23 in their 18-man squads, a decision that could make all the difference between gold and silver. And with the final squad lists having just been announced, FIFA.com looks at the seasoned campaigners who will be travelling to Beijing to impart a little wisdom to their younger team-mates.

One of the men benefiting from the age dispensation is a FIFA World Cup™ winner no less. Ronaldinho was only 22 when he lit up the world with his distinctive smile and exceptional skills as Brazil claimed the spoils at Korea/Japan 2002. The midfielder has enjoyed plenty more highs since then including two Spanish league titles, a UEFA Champions League success and the FIFA World Player Award in 2005.

After sitting out most of a disappointing season with Barcelona, the new AC Milan man is anxious to get back on the glory trail and help the Auriverde clinch Olympic gold, a title strangely missing from their honours board.

"He is a key part of our team and he's back to his best," said national coach Dunga. "The most important thing is that he's happy and smiling again." Much the same could be said of defender Thiago Silva, who recently suffered the disappointment of defeat in the final of the Copa Libertadores with his club side Fluminense.

Another gifted performer well accustomed to the big stage is Argentina's Juan Roman Riquelme, who is out to win his first major trophy in the blue-and-white jersey. The tournament will see the Boca Juniors playmaker team up once more with Liverpool anchorman Javier Mascherano, another of coach Sergio Batista's over-age picks and the only survivor of the victorious Albiceleste side of 2004.

The combative midfielder could be forgiven for feeling a sense of deja-vu when he comes up against Australia's Jade North. The defender is another veteran of Athens 2004, when the two sides met in the first phase, and will no doubt have told his team-mates what they can expect when the Socceroos meet the South Americans again in Group A.

"They really had a struggle against us," he recently told FIFA.com in reference to the 1-0 defeat four years ago. "The team is stronger now and we've got pace as well as skill." One Aussie blessed with both those attributes is North's 29-year-old team-mate Archie Thompson, who has rattled in 21 goals in 30 appearances with the national side.

Antipodean neighbours New Zealand have plumped for a trio of over 23s who ply their trade in the British Isles. Defender Ryan Nelsen (Blackburn Rovers), midfielder Simon Elliot (Fulham) and front man Chris Killen (Celtic) form the solid backbone of a side intent on spoiling China PR's big debut in Group C. The hosts have an English-based hero of their own in Charlton Athletic midfielder Zhi Zheng, while Group D hopefuls Korea Republic can boast a recent UEFA Cup winner in their ranks, Zenit St Petersburg left-back Kim Dong Jin.

One of the best-known sharpshooters on show is Netherlands' Roy Makaay, still going strong at the age of 33 and the scorer of 231 goals for his various clubs. Lining up alongside him will be Gerald Sibon, who was denied an international cap during his long career by the prowess of Makaay and Oranje strike partners Ruud van Nistelrooy and Patrick Kluivert. But having now turned 34, the Heerenveen hitman finally has a chance to savour the big time. As for Italy, their only over-age player is Lazio forward Tommaso Rocchi, while Cameroon's Gustave Bebbe and Nigeria's Peter Odemwingie are the sole African players to have turned 24.

The oldest man in the competition, however, is the evergreen Brian McBride, the 36 year old having agreed to come out of international retirement to bring some valuable know-how to the United States set-up.

Click on the links in the right-hand menu to view the squad lists for the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008.