Host City: Atlanta, United States
Date Started: July 20, 1996
Date Finished: August 3, 1996
Participants: 387 (264 men and 123 women) from 21 countries
Youngest Participant: Hanna Ljungberg (17 years, 195 days)
Oldest Participant: Meg (40 years, 203 days)
Most Medals (Athlete): 96 athletes with 1 medal
Most Medals (Country): 6 countries with 1 medal
The big news in 1996 was that women’s football was now an Olympic sport. Women had first competed in a World Cup in 1991, won by the United States, with Norway winning in 1995. Women had an eight-team field, made up of seven of the top eight teams from the 1995 World Cup, with Brazil replacing England, as England could not compete in the Olympics independently. Women had two groups of four teams each with the top two teams in each group advancing to the semi-finals. The United States women won the gold medal, defeating China in the final, 2-1, on a late goal.
The men had the standard field and format of 16 teams separated into four four-team groups, that played a round-robin to determine the top two teams in each group, who advanced to the quarter-finals and the knock-out phase. Both the men and women played in five stadia spread around the United States, as follows – Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia; Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida; Legion Field, Birmingham, Alabama; Orange Bowl, Miami, Florida; and Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, Washington, DC.
The 16 men’s qualifiers were as follows – the United States as the host nation; five teams from the 1996 UEFA Europe Under-21 Championships (Italy, Spain, France, Hungary, Portugal); three teams from a CAF (Africa) Olympic Qualifying Tournament (Ghana, Tunisia, Nigeria); three teams from an AFC (Asia) Olympic Qualifying Tournament (Korea [South], Japan, Saudi Arabia); one team from a CONCACAF (North & Central America/Caribbean) Olympic Qualifying Tournament (Mexico); two teams from a CONMEBOL (South America) Olympic Qualifying Tournament (Brazil, Argentina); and Australia from the OFC (Oceania) Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Nigeria became the first African nation to win Olympic football gold, defeating Argentina in the final, 3-2. Brazil took bronze with a crushing defeat of Portugal, 5-0.