As the 2012 Olympic Summer Games enter the fourth full day of competition, it's already time for the first of the six traditional team sports, soccer, to close its preliminary phase. You can thank an early start and small number of group matches compared to the other sports -- well except for women's water polo -- for that.
Over the next few days, as the group stage of each of the 12 team tournaments wrap up, I'll take a look at where each group stands heading into the final day, exploring the medal round possibilities in what should hopefully be an easy to understand manner. Admittedly, that will be a challenge given that tiebreakers will often be in play, and they habitually are anything but simple.
I'll close each post with a projected bracket for the medal rounds. Thankfully, there's no selection committee to impress in London, teams will just need to take care of business on the field.
It's time to start with a look at the three women's soccer groups that wrap up today with a trio of simultaneous kickoffs.
Group E: 2:45 p.m. ET Starts
Current Standings: 1. Brazil, 2. Great Britain, 3. New Zealand, 4. Cameroon
Brazil and Great Britain (6 points each) are both already in the quarterfinals, so their meeting at Wembley will determine quarterfinal places E1 and E2. In that case of a draw, pole position goes to the Brazilians, thanks to their advantage in the differential column (+6 compared to +4). The winner between New Zealand and Cameroon (0 points each)in Coventry (2:45 p.m. ET) has a shot at qualifying as one of the two best third-place teams; however, the Football Ferns head into the contest with a big advantage over the Cameroonians, simply because they haven't allowed nearly as many goals as the first timers (-2 to -8 in the differential column).
Projected Standings: 1. Brazil 7 pts., 2. Great Britain 7 pts., 3. New Zealand 3 pts., 4. Cameroon 0 pts.
Group F: 9:30 a.m. ET Starts
Current Standings: 1. Sweden, 2. Japan, 3. Canada, 4. South Africa
Sweden and Japan's (4 points each) goalless draw on Saturday, combined with results elsewhere, saw them both qualify for the knock-out round, but seeding is still up for grabs. Plus, third place Canada (3 points) also owning a slim chance at claiming the top spot in the group. I say "slim chance" because to finish first, the Maple Leaf squad will need to beat the Swedes in Newcastle and hope that the World Cup champions don't handle South Africa (0 points) in Cardiff simultaneously. That's not likely.
If both Sweden and Japan win and move to 7 points, position F1 will come down to goal difference, where Sweden currently owns an advantage (+3 to +1). As for Banyana Banyana, they find themselves in the same position as their African counterparts in Group E. In short, the South Africans need to stun Japan, see Canada lose, and hope for a massive swing in goal differential (Canada is currently +2 and South Africa is -6). Even then, goals scored could create an issue.
Projected Standings: 1. Japan 7 pts., 2. Sweden 5 pts., 3. Canada 4 pts., 4. South Africa 0 pts.
Group G: 12:15 p.m. Starts
Current Standings: 1. USA, 2. France, 3. North Korea, 4. Colombia
The United States is best positioned to win the group, as the two-time defending Olympic champions sit on 6 points and face North Korea (3 points) at Old Trafford, needing only a draw to claim the top spot. On the other hand, that point would be all the Koreans need to slip through.
France (3 points) plays Colombia (0 points) in Newcastle, with the French needing only a point of their own to advance -- with a win likely to deliver a second place finish. To win the group, France would need the USA to lose to North Korea, but the combined margin of the American loss and French win would have to overturn the United States' 2-goal advantage in differential. The Colombians, meanwhile, must win big to have any hope.
Projected Standings: 1. USA 9 pts., 2. France 6 pts., 3. North Korea 3 pts., 4. Colombia 0 pts.
The Wild Card Race: The Third-Place Teams
Current Standings: 1. Canada (group F), 2. North Korea (group G), 3. New Zealand (group E)
While no team has been officially eliminated, the trio of third-place teams have a far stronger chance at qualifying than the teams sitting below them in the standings (Cameroon, South Africa, Colombia). Still, just two will move on, and you have to fancy the Football Ferns (who face struggling Cameroon) and Maple Leafs (even if Sweden is a difficult opponent) over a North Korean side that has to face an American team that's on a different level than their rivals' opposition.
That gives us this projected quarterfinal bracket for Friday...
Old Trafford Semifinal
(E1) Brazil vs. (F3) Canada in Coventry
(G1) USA vs. (E3) New Zealand in Newcastle
(F1) Japan vs. (G2) France in Glasgow
(E2) Great Britain vs. (F2) Sweden in Cardiff
Tomorrow, I examine how well I did right before I look at where the men's soccer tournament stands heading into its final set of preliminaries.
Follow Mr. Dobbertean's Olympic thoughts on his personal Twitter account.