From Messi to Marta and Neymar to Kittu, celebrating Olympic football's finest

The most viewed sport in the world kicks up a notch at the Olympics. Here are some men's and women's football flashbacks from the quadrennial event over the years.

By Bhaktvatsal Sharma ·

It’s one of the biggest sports in the world, with a total of 211 nations playing the game as per FIFA rankings. And at the Olympic Games too, football often tends to generate buzz to pull spectators into the stadiums.

Over the years, we have witnessed the best in the business light up the Olympic stage with their skills in both the men's and women's events. At Beijing 2008, a certain youngster named Lionel Messi mesmerised everyone with his swift movements and smart ball play. At Rio 2016 Neymar was among the gold medallists, at a Games where Sweden's women produced a shock even bigger than when a inexperienced Mexico men's team stunned Brazil at London 2012.

Here's more on those and a few other such interesting moments from the past.

The underdog story

They might not boast of a footballing pedigree as their European or South American counterparts, but during the discipline’s initiation days into the Olympic programme, India was one of the few contingents that barely needed another reason to send its team for the Games.

It was at the 1956 Melbourne Games that the persistence paid off.

Having found an easy route to the quarter-finals, the Indian men produced one of the biggest upsets as they beat the hosts Australia 4-2 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to make it to the semi-final.

Mumbai man Neville D'Souza was the star of the match, scoring a hat-trick while J. Krishnaswamy 'Kittu' came up with the other strike.

Though they lost out to the eventual silver medallists (erstwhile) Yugoslavia in their semifinal tie, their journey ushered a new era for Indian football that saw them make a name for themselves at the continental stage.

The South American tale

In hindsight, Beijing 2008 could have the best line-up of any Olympics, as it saw a number of future stars in action.

With the likes of Lionel Messi, Mousa Dembélé, Marcelo, Victor Anichebe, Salomon Kalou, Ángel Di María, and Sergio Agüero in action, the football competition at the Games of the 29th Olympiad had everything one could have asked for.

But despite such a big talent pool, it was barely a surprise that Argentina went on to dominate the Games.

From maintaining an all-win record to pumping in 11 goals in their six matches, claiming the gold turned out to be a footnote for Messi and Co. as they ran rampant against their opponents.

El Tri

They were the outsiders amidst all the gold medal talk.

With the likes of Brazil, Uruguay, Great Britain, and Spain in the mix, thinking that Mexico would clinch the gold at London 2012 was out of the question.

Grouped alongside South Korea, Gabon and Switzerland, the Mexicans faced little to no resistance en route the quarterfinals.

In their last-8 tie, the El Tri (as the Mexican football team is also called) were stretched till the extra time before two goals from Giovani dos Santos and Héctor Herrera could seal the game for them. Up against Japan, a team that had ousted Spain in the group stages, in their semifinals, Mexico barely showed any nerves, winning the tie 3-1.

However, it was the final that defined the competition for Mexico. Lining up against Brazil at Wembley Stadium, the Mexicans were handed a dream start with Oribe Peralta scoring in the opening minutes. 

Later, he would double the score in the second half to all but seal the deal for his side. Though Hulk pulled one back for the Brazilians deep into injury time, it was too little too late as the El Tri took home the ultimate prize.

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Redemption at home

The Selecao, however, didn’t let that defeat linger for too long as four years later Brazil ensured that the gold medal was theirs when the Olympic movement came to their home for Rio 2016.

The only missing title from the Brazilian trophy cabinet was finally added at Rio 2016

They would ease past their opponents in the group stage, beat Colombia and Honduras in the knock-outs without much fuss, and didn’t take too long to wrap up the proceedings against Germany in the final.

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Missing out on the yellow metal

The football competition at Rio 2016 had the hosts Brazil enjoy both the highs and the lows of the game.

While Neymar Jr. led his side to their first-ever gold medal, Marta Vieira da Silva couldn’t do the same with the women’s team.

Coming into the competition as one of the favourites for the title, Brazil eased through their group stage before getting a reality check against Australia in the quarter-finals.

Though the Brazilians held their nerve to scrape past the Aussies on penalties, they had no such luck against Sweden in the semis. They were on the receiving end of a penalty shootout defeat.

Brazil struggled to find a way past Sweden in the semifinal at Rio 2016

It remains to be seen if Marta can realise her dream of Olympic gold at Tokyo 2020.

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A shocker in Rio

Sweden’s women’s team made heads turn throughout those Games.

While the likes of Usain Bolt, Mo Farah, and Michael Phelps dominated the show at Rio 2016, with Neymar and Marta lighting up the football event, the Swedes were doing great things away from the spotlight.

Dumping out Brazil was one noteworthy story on their way to losing out to Germany in the gold medal game, but it wasn't their biggest.

Making it to the knock-outs as one of the two best third-placed teams the team, coached by the experienced Pia Sundhage, pulled off one of the shocks of any Games with their win over the United States - the then reigning Olympic and World Champions - on penalties.

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