Soccer 101: Olympic History

Soccer 101: Olympic History
Posted at 4:36 PM, Mar 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-12 10:29:58-05

Rio, 2016 
Men: At the 2014 World Cup two years prior, Brazil suffered the most embarrassing loss in its revered soccer history when the Seleção lost 7-1 to Germany on home soil. With the 2016 Olympics also taking place in Brazil, the stage was set for some much-needed redemption. Neymar and company got exactly that with a dramatic gold medal victory over (who else?) Germany. The tense final played to a 1-1 draw after extra time, requiring penalty kicks. Neymar himself scored the deciding fifth penalty, clinching an emotional gold for the hosts.

Women: The United States entered Rio as the three-time defending Olympic champions and overwhelming favorites, having also won the Women’s World Cup one year earlier. However, after topping their group, the U.S. women shockingly lost in the first round of the knockout stage to Sweden, on penalty kicks. Sweden was coached by Pia Sundhage, formerly the head coach of the U.S. Women's National Team. In the final, Sweden fell to Germany 2-1. 

London, 2012
Men: The men's gold medal match saw proud soccer nations Mexico and Brazil face off. Despite Brazil's star-studded roster, including Neymar, Oscar and Thiago Silva, the Mexicans took home the gold with a 2-1 victory, thanks to a brace from Oribe Peralta.  

Women: The United States women completed a three-peat in London defeating Japan in the gold medal match. The Americans were flying high going into the final after an instant classic in the semifinal against Canada. It was Alex Morgan's extra-time goal in the semifinal that beat the Canadians in thrilling fashion, 4-3.  

SEE MORE: Rio 2016: Neymar PK wins Brazil's first Olympic soccer gold

Beijing, 2008
Men: After losing a legal battle with FC Barcelona over the release of star Lionel Messi for the Olympics, Argentina was nonetheless able to secure the services of its dynamic playmaker, and that was all the South Americans needed to go on a blistering run through the men's tournament. Argentina was perfect in Group A, squeaked by the Netherlands in the quarterfinals 2-1 on the strength of an Angel Di Maria extra-time goal and routed rival Brazil 3-0 in the semifinals. Argentina then captured a second straight gold medal with a 1-0 win in the final, a goal by Di Maria, again standing as the difference.  

Women: The United States women lost star forward and leading scorer Abby Wambach to a knee injury in their final tune-up match before the Olympics, then fell 2-0 to Norway in their opening group match, leaving their chances of a repeat gold medal in doubt. However, thanks to stellar goalkeeping by Hope Solo, solid midfield play by newcomer Carli Lloyd and scoring punch from Angela Hucles, the U.S. advanced to a 2004 gold medal rematch against Brazil. Solo posted a dazzling clean sheet, repeatedly stymieing Brazilian stars Marta and Cristiane, and Lloyd scored the match's lone goal in extra time as the Americans won a second consecutive gold medal. 

Athens, 2004
Men: Argentina, which hadn't won a gold medal in any sport since winning a rowing title at the 1952 Helsinki Games, survived an ill-tempered all-South American final against Paraguay to put an end to that drought.  

Women: The Games were a fitting end for a number of U.S. women's veterans, including Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett, who went out of the sport as they came into it: as champions. The never-say-die U.S. team won both of its semifinal and final matches in overtime to reclaim the gold it lost in Sydney. In the semifinals against Germany, it was Heather O'Reilly who struck for the winning goal. Abby Wambach connected on the game-winning goal against Brazil in the Gold Medal Match. 

Sydney, 2000
Men: Cameroon capped off one of the finest Olympic tournaments in history with a thrilling shootout victory over Spain to become the second consecutive African nation to win gold in men's soccer. Meanwhile, the United States had its best run in a full Olympic tournament, losing 2-0 to Chile in the Bronze Medal Match. 

Women: The United States entered Sydney as defending Olympic and World Cup champions, and with a 2-0 victory over 1995 World Cup winner Norway in pool play, the Americans seemed headed for a second gold. When the familiar foes met again in the final, Norway came out on top thanks to Dagny Mellgren's golden goal in a thrilling 3-2 match. 

Atlanta, 1996
Men: In these Games, teams were permitted for the first time to have three players 23-years of age or older. Nigeria became the first African nation to win an Olympic or World Cup soccer tournament. In a stirring semifinal against Brazil, Nigeria scored twice in the final 13 minutes to force overtime, and then won, 4-3, on a goal from Nwankwo Kanu. Nigeria repeated its late-game magic in the final against Argentina, scoring in the final minute of regulation to win, 3-2.  

Women: Atlanta 1996 marked the debut of women’s soccer at the Olympics. The United States and Norway had met in the 1991 and 1995 Women's World Cup finals, with each team winning once. The two rivals clashed in the first Olympic semifinals, where the Americans won, 2-1, on a golden goal in extra time from Shannon MacMillan. In the final, the U.S. defeated China, 2-1, in front of 76,489 fans at the University of Georgia. 

Barcelona, 1992
In front of a partisan crowd, Spain defeated Poland, 3-2, to win the Olympic soccer tournament for the first time and become the first host nation to claim gold since Belgium in 1920.  

Seoul, 1988
European and South American pros with World Cup experience were ineligible, which left room for upsets, such as Zambia's 4-0 win over Italy in pool play. The Soviet Union defeated Brazil in the final for its first men's soccer gold since 1956.  

Los Angeles, 1984
For the first time, professionals took part in the Olympic soccer tournament, though only Europeans and South Americans with no World Cup experience were eligible. And with the three medalists from 1980 (Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union and East Germany) boycotting the L.A. Games, the tournament was wide open. The final, played before a crowd of 101,799 at the Rose Bowl, saw France defeat Brazil, 2-0. 

Moscow, 1980  
With several nations withdrawing from the Moscow Games to protest the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan, the 1980 men's soccer tournament featured only nine teams. For the third consecutive Olympics, the defending champion lost a rain-soaked final. East Germany, which didn't have a single player back from its victorious 1976 team, lost to Czechoslovakia, 1-0. 

Montreal, 1976  
Poland, the gold medalist from 1972, brought 10 players to Montreal from its 1974 World Cup team. As in Munich, the final was played in heavy rain. But this time, the Poles did not prevail. East Germany scored twice in the first 15 minutes, then again with six minutes remaining, to win 3-1. 

Munich, 1972  
The final was played in torrential rain and near gale-force wind. Poland rallied for a 2-1 victory and its first Olympic medal in men's soccer. In an Olympic first, two teams shared the bronze medal, as East Germany and the Soviet Union played to a 2-2 draw. 

Mexico City, 1968  
In the Hungary-Bulgaria Gold Medal Match, irate spectators caused delays by throwing seat cushions on the field to protest calls. With Hungary leading 2-1, referee Diego DeLeo ejected Bulgarian forward Yancho Dimitrov for rough play. Seconds later, DeLeo sent off another Bulgarian, prompting teammate Atanase Khristov to kick the ball at DeLeo for ejection number three. With just eight players left, Bulgaria lost, 4-1, to Hungary, which won its second consecutive gold. 

Tokyo, 1964  
Hungary defeated Czechoslovakia in the Gold Medal Match, while the unified German team took home bronze.  

Rome, 1960  
In the final between Yugoslavia and Denmark, Yugoslavia's Milan Galic scored in the first minute but was ejected just before halftime for insulting a referee. Playing a man down, Yugoslavia held on to win, 3-1.  

Melbourne, 1956  
In the smallest Olympic soccer tournament since 1912, only 11 countries participated in Melbourne, in part because of the Hungarian Revolution and the Soviet Union's reaction to it. Competing at its second Games, the Soviet Union won its first soccer gold medal, handing Yugoslavia its third consecutive silver with a 1-0 victory in the final. Bulgaria won its first Olympic soccer medal, defeating India in the Bronze Medal Match. 

Helsinki, 1952  
In the final, Yugoslavia faced a Hungarian team led by Ferenc Puskas, who was regarded as one of the greatest players in soccer history. The Magic Magyars, as they were known, blanked Yugoslavia 2-0 for Olympic gold. 

London, 1948  
With the best players of Western Europe and South America turning professional, other European "amateur" teams began to dominate Olympic soccer. In the 1948 final at Wembley Stadium, the Swedish team, featuring brothers Gunnar, Bertil and Knut Nordahl, overcame Yugoslavia to win gold.  

Berlin, 1936  
Several incidents made this Olympic soccer competition memorable -- and for the wrong reasons. A match between Italy and the United States -- in which two Americans were injured -- saw the referee physically threatened by Italian players who disagreed with a penalty he called. And during the Peru-Austria quarterfinal, Peruvian fans reportedly ran onto the field and attacked an Austrian player. Peru won, 4-2, but an Austrian protest was upheld and officials ordered the game to be replayed. Outraged, the Peruvians withdrew their entire Olympic contingent. Austria wound up losing to Italy in the final. 

Amsterdam, 1928  
Uruguay, returning eight players from its 1924 gold medal-winning squad, successfully defended its Olympic crown. Argentina, the tournament's other South American team, routed the United States 11-2 in the first round en route to meeting Uruguay in the Gold Medal Match. After the nations played to a 1-1 draw, they played again, with Uruguay prevailing, 2-1. 

Paris, 1924  
A virtually unknown team from Uruguay rallied past the Netherlands, 2-1, in the semifinals. Then in the Gold Medal Match, in front of 60,000 fans, Uruguay blanked Switzerland, 3-0, to win gold and establish themselves as a world soccer power. 

Antwerp, 1920  
The soccer final was a centerpiece event of the Antwerp Games, pitting the host nation against the recently formed Czechoslovak Republic. Belgian army troops surrounded the field to keep the capacity crowd of 40,000-plus under control. The Czechoslovakians objected to the soldiers' presence and questioned the impartiality of English referee John Lewis, whom Czech supporters had attacked during a pre-Olympic match in Prague. With six minutes left in the first half and Belgium leading 2-0, Lewis sent off Czech star Karel Steiner for rough play. In protest, the entire Czech team left the field, leading to its disqualification. 

Stockholm, 1912  
An early first-half injury to Charles Buchwald forced Denmark to play most of the Gold Medal Match against Great Britain with only 10 players. With a man advantage, the British successfully defended their Olympic title, 4-2. Elsewhere, Russia's 16-0 loss to Germany reportedly made the Russian Czar so upset that he didn't pay for the players' journey home from Stockholm. 

London, 1908 
These Games are often regarded as the first to include an official Olympic soccer tournament. 100-year anniversary host Great Britain won the first of back-to-back gold medals, defeating Denmark 2-0 in the final.  

St. Louis, 1904 
The United States entered two teams: St. Rose School of St. Louis and Christian Brothers College. The St. Rose players allowed just one goal, and they scored it on themselves. The Christian Brothers team lost to the Galt Football Club of Canada in the Gold Medal Match. The silver and bronze medals remain the only medals ever earned by American men in Olympic soccer.