Countdown begins to London 2012
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On Monday, Great Britain marked the 200-day countdown to the opening of London 2012, the 30th Olympic Games. Curiously enough, the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament begins two days prior to the opening on Wednesday 25 July, while the Men’s competition begins 24 hours later. With time ticking away before 28 teams battle for two gold medals, takes a look at what to expect over the upcoming six and a half months.

In terms of the qualification programme, which will be previewed and reviewed extensively on FIFA’s official website, the next major date for the diary is a week from today (Thursday 19 January) when the CONCACAF women's qualifying tournament begins. The region's two big guns, Canada and USA, have been kept apart and they will be hoping for a relatively smooth progression to the final, although both Costa Rica and Mexico will have other ideas in mind.

March is the busiest month for the men’s preliminaries, as the AFC, CONCACAF and OFC qualifiers are finalised. However, the complete line-up of participants will not be known until Monday 23 April when the best runner-up from Asia takes on Senegal at the City of Coventry Stadium. The following day, Tuesday 24 April, the Official Draw will take place at Wembley Stadium.

The men’s and women’s teams representing Great Britain know their schedule already. As team A1, the men’s team, coached by current England Under-21 coach Stuart Pearce, will begin their London 2012 campaign at Old Trafford on Thursday 26 July, followed by a trip to Wembley on Sunday 29 July with their final group game taking place at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Wednesday 1 August.

Meanwhile, the women’s team, coached by Hope Powell will begin the tournament on Wednesday 25 July at the Millennium Stadium, followed by Saturday 28 July also at the Millennium Stadium. Their final group stage match will take place on Tuesday 31 July at Wembley.

The schedule for the tournaments is fast and furious, with up to eight games taking place on each match day – and four simultaneous kick-offs at 17.00 local time on Wednesday 1 August. For the complete schedule, please click on the link on the right hand side.

I know how special it can be to play for your country on home soil at a major tournament.
Team GB's men's coach, Stuart Pearce.

Each team is limited to 18 players, with the men’s squads containing 15 players who were born on, or after, 1 January 1989, with an exception made for three overage players. There are no age limits for the women's selections. Indeed, former England captain David Beckham, 36, is known to be keen to represent Great Britain.

Pearce has repeatedly stated that he would only select players on "form and fitness" - and has hitherto refused to be drawn on whether Beckham will be included, stating: "I've not seen him play recently; he's a bit old for the U-21s! I was fortunate to be part of [UEFA] EURO 96, so I know how special it can be to play for your country on home soil at a major tournament. I'm sure this group of players will relish being part of not only a huge tournament in this country, but a unique one competing together and representing the UK."

Powell has led England's women for 13 years, encompassing four successive major finals, including UEFA EURO 2005 on home soil. She said: "The attendances at the games during EURO 2005 were a sign of progress for women's football in this country. It helped provide a platform for what has happened since then. I'm delighted to be in the position to be able to take a team into such an illustrious tournament; I just wish it were starting tomorrow."

Echoing Powell’s comments, anticipation is growing ahead of the tournaments which take place in some of the UK’s most iconic stadiums. As well as Wembley, the Millennium Stadium and Old Trafford, Newcastle United’s St. James’s Park, the City of Coventry Stadium and Glasgow’s Hampden Park will also be used to host the 58 games.

Have Your Say
Will the male hosts triumph at Wembley, just as they did at the FIFA World Cup™ of 1966 - and can Pia Sundhage’s side make it three gold medals in a row for USA in the women’s competition?