Wednesday marks the start of the Games of the XXX Olympiad, as women's soccer competition will get underway. There are six games on tap, the first having the host team Great Britain take on New Zealand. About an hour later, the World Cup champions from Japan will take on Canada and the U.S. will face France. The U.S., ranked No. 1 in the world, takes on the sixth-ranked French in the toughest match of the day.
By comparison, the other match-ups:
GBR (England is #9 - GBR does not rank) v NZL (#23)
Brazil (#5) v Cameroon (#50)
Japan (#3) v Canada (#7)
Sweden (#4) v South Africa (#61)
USA (#1) v France (#6)
Columbia (#28) v North Korea (#8)
You may notice that four of the 12 teams are outside the top 20, while No. 2 & No. 10-20 are not in London.
A couple of reasons explain this. First, Europe was allocated as many spots in the field as Africa, despite the fact that the best African team according to soccer's governing body FIFA's rankings is Nigeria at No. 27, with sixteen European teams ranking higher.
To compound this, Europe was the only zone without a qualifying tournament. They chose to take the two best finishers in the 2011 FIFA World Cup. When the second seeded German team were upset by Japan in the quarterfinals, they were out as Sweden and France went through. Germany was denied a European spot despite the fact that they did not lost to a European squad.
Australia participated in the Asian qualifying, finishing third behind Japan and North Korea. That left New Zealand an easy road through the Oceania Qualifying Tournament, downing Papua New Guinea 8-0 and 7-0.
The other problem is that the women's tournament has 12 teams, while the men have 16. The growing depth in the women's game should justify four more teams. This would also help grow the game with increased exposure during the Olympics. The men have three spots for European teams, all competing in their own tournament.
Today the U.S. has a very tough early test against a medal contender. In the long run, the toughest team in the world, Germany, is not here. The U.S. is the favorite for the gold, another Japanese victory would be another big upset.