Learn about this Summer Olympic sport

May 15, 2012

Player Andy Najar of Honduras chases down a ball against Israel Jimenez of Mexico during the men's qualifying finals for the 2012 Olympics

Goal! Football, or soccer, is one of the world’s most popular sports. The game has its roots in ancient China, though the modern version began on the streets of medieval England. The objective is simple: get the ball in the opposing team’s goal without using your hands or arms. With simple rules and basic equipment, the sport can be played almost anywhere. But the fast-paced game requires great athleticism and teamwork.

The men’s competition entered the Olympics at the 1900 Paris Games in France. The sport has been part of every Summer Olympics since then, except for the 1932 Games in Los Angeles, California. A women’s competition was added at the 1996 Atlanta Games in Georgia. At the Olympics, each game is played as two 45-minute halves, with 11 players on each team (and seven substitutes).

Rules of the Game

For the preliminaries at the Olympics, 16 men’s and 12 women’s teams are divided into groups of four teams. Each team plays every other team in their group. For each win, a team receives three points (one point is awarded for a draw, or tie, game).

The best eight teams in the men’s and women’s competitions move onto the quarterfinals, where the games become knockout matches toward the final gold match. Ties are resolved by two 15-minute periods of extra time, penalty shootouts and sudden-death penalties, if needed.


Click here to read about gymnastics at the Olympic Games.

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