World football's best women take the stage for the Olympics this summer in London. The tournament started July 25, and is the biggest international women's competition outside the World Cup.
Olympic football is one of the most important tournaments for women. With shorter club seasons, the international stage is where many of the world's best hone their skills. Unlike the men's competition there are no age restrictions, which mean each country can bring its best players.
Germanywill not be competing. The World Cup 2011 served as the Olympic qualifying tournament for the two top European teams. France and Sweden advanced to the last four, but the Germans lost in the quarterfinals to eventual winners Japan.
There are three groups of four teams. The winners and runners up of each group advance to the quarterfinals, along with the two best third-ranked teams. Here are the teams to watch:
Brazil- Group E
One of the better teams over the past decade, Brazil have yet to capitalize on their talent and win a major international tournament. "A Seleção" will be desperate to change their fortunes after finishing second at the last two Olympics.
Marta is one of the greatest players ever in women's football
Brazil have the world's best player in 26-year-old forward Marta, already a five-time World Player of the Year. Long-time captain Aline, who plays her club football in Russia, anchors the Brazilian defense. Joining her is 24-year-old Erika, who was named one of the defenders of the tournament at the last World Cup.
Great Britain- Group E
It is the first ever Olympics for the hosts. The team, made up of 16 English women and two Scottish women, played their first ever game just last week - a 0-0 draw with Sweden. Great Britain does not normally have a football team, as the comprising nations of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales compete independently.
Led by long-time England manager Hope Powell, Team GB has the talent to medal and the added benefit of home support. All but one of the English players were members of the team that made it to the quarterfinals of the 2011 World Cup in Germany, including Everton Ladies midfielder Jill Scott, who was named to the team of the tournament.
Canada- Group F
Canadahave yet to win a major international tournament, but they have been improving steadily over the past decade. Ranked seventh in the world, the Canadians will hope to bounce back from their disappointing World Cup performance last summer that saw them finish dead last at 16th.
Canada is led by captain and all-time leading goal scorer Christine Sinclair. The 29-year-old forward has an incredible 137 goals in 184 international games. She and her teammates will expect to bring a medal back home to their country as they prepare to host the World Cup in 2015.
Sweden- Group F
Algarve Cup wins in 2001 and 2009 are the only major international tournament victories for Sweden, but the fourth-ranked "Blågult" feature some of the best players in women's football and are strong favorites to medal.
With only four players under the age of 25, Sweden are one of the more experienced teams at the tournament. Leading the way are forward Lotta Schelin and midfielder Caroline Seger, standouts at the World Cup.
Japan- Group F
The reigning World Cup Champions have created a huge buzz in the world of women's football. Their underdog road to victory last summer, beating heavy favorites the United States on penalties, was an historic achievement.
Homare Sawa (center) led Japan to victory at the 2011 World Cup in Germany
In Japan, fans are excited about their team's medal prospects. "The women's team [has] a very good chance of winning gold and because of that there is going to be huge interest," Japan Times football writer Andrew McKirdy told DW.
Leading Japan will be current World Player of the Year and Captain Homare Sawa. The 33-year-old midfielder was named best player of the tournament during their victorious World Cup campaign, and big things are expected from her this summer in London.
Group G - France
Franceachieved their best World Cup finish ever at fourth place last summer. They enter the Olympics off the back of that momentum ranked sixth in the world. Anything less than a medal will be unacceptable for longtime women's football manager Bruno Bini.
The French are captained by 38-year-old midfielder Sandrine Soubeyrand, an international since 1997. In 2009 she surpassed legendary men's defender Lilian Thuram as France's most capped player ever. Driving the French attack is midfielder Louisa Necib, a standout from the World Cup with decisive attacking and creative play.
USA- Group G
Ranked number one in the world, Team USA is a favorite for gold. The Americans return most of their squad that finished runners-up to Japan at last summer's World Cup in Germany, including forwards Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan (both pictured at top), and goalkeeper Hope Solo.
As two-time defending Olympic champions and winners of three out of the last four, anything less than gold will be a disappointment for the United States. Morgan, a breakout star at the World Cup, is poised for a big tournament. She has 17 goals in 15 games in 2012.
Defender and captain Christie Rampone may be competing in her last tournament. The 37-year-old is the last remaining member of the team that won the World Cup in 1999.
Author: David Raish
Editor: Matt Zuvela