Women’s Olympic Soccer Tournaments: Past Draw Procedures

Note: This post is part of my main post on predicting the 2012 Women’s Olympic Soccer Tournament draw, where I review the 2008 tournament’s draw and use that as a model for predicting the seeding for this year’s draw.

For the main post, it is not necessary to read this, but the history of past draw procedures does reveal a consistent preference of geographic diversity, along with the best teams being seeded into separate groups. Also, the result of the draw for the 2000 Olympics, where the USA was grouped with its two main rivals at the time, China and Norway, is notable in that it likely led to a greater preference for the seeding of top teams, in order to avoid significantly unbalanced groups.


There have been four previous women’s soccer tournaments at the Summer Olympics. The first two, in 1996 (Athens, USA) and 2000 (Sydney, Australia), only had 8 teams. The third tournament, in 2000 (Athens, Greece) had an odd ten teams, while the last Olympics in 2008 (Beijing, China) had 12 teams, which is the same number of teams for this Olympics.

1996: 8 teams, groups (FIFA.com)
2000: 8 teams, draw procedure (FIFA.com), groups (FIFA.com)
2004: 10 teams, draw procedure (USSoccer.com), groups (FIFA.com)
2008: 12 teams, draw procedure (PDF), groups (FIFA.com)

1996, Atlanta, USA: This was the first Summer Olympics to host a women’s tournament. I am unable to find any information on the actual draw, so I can only review the actual groups.

In the first group, Group E, there was USA (host), China, Sweden, and Denmark. In the second group, Group F, the four teams were Norway, Brazil, Germany, and Japan.

The USA avoided both the reigning Women’s World Cup champion, Norway (1995), and the WWC runner-up, Germany. The USA did have to face the other semifinalist from the 1995 WWC, China, who the USA defeated for third place at that WWC.

Geographically, the four European teams were split evenly between the two groups. Also, the two Asian teams, China and Japan, were in separate groups.

2000, Sydney, Australia: The procedure for this tournament, which also featured 8 teams divided into two groups of 4, is fairly short. Here it is in its entirety:

For the women’s tournament , the eight teams will be organised into three pots.

Pot A: Australia, USA.
Pot B:
Germany, Norway, Sweden.
Pot C:
Brazil, China PR, Nigeria.

Hosts Australia will play in Group E along with either two teams from pot B and one team from pot C, or vice-versa. 1996 gold medallists USA will play in Group F with the other three teams from pots B and C.

Essentially, the hosts and the top team in the world were seeded into separate groups. The three UEFA teams were placed into the same pot. The rest of the teams, which were each from separate continents, were all placed in the third pot. One group would have two teams from Europe.

And, how did the draw go? The USA got both its then top-two rival, China and Norway, along with Nigeria. Meanwhile Australia was grouped with Germany, Sweden, and Brazil. In the 1999 WWC, both Germany and Sweden failed to advance from the quarterfinals, while Brazil made it to the third-place match, where they beat Norway in a penalty shoot-out. US Soccer’s media department used the usually sensational “Group of Death” moniker in its press release about the draw, which would have been applicable had Brazil been in the group instead of Nigeria: In the 1999 WWC, the USA crushed Nigeria 7:1, while the USA only defeated Brazil in a semifinal 2:0 via a Cindy Parlow goal and a Michelle Akers penalty kick.

The USA and Norway were able to escape the group, with the USA beating Norway 2:0 in their first group match, but Norway defeated the USA 3:2 via a golden goal by Dagny Mellgren, after a controversial non-call on an apparent handball. (See the aside by Grant Wahl,  in this old SI.com article and this New York Times article for details.)

2004, Athens, Greece: This tournament had the relatively odd number of 10 teams in its field, which were divided into three groups: two groups had three teams while one group had four teams. This was the first women’s Olympic tournament with quarterfinals.

Effectively, there were three pots. Greece was seeded in Group G, in slot #1. The pots:

Pot 1: Germany, Sweden , USA (Group G, #2)
Pot 2: China, Brazil, Japan
Pot 3: Mexico, Nigeria, and Australia

The USA was placed in the group of four, Group G, along with the host nation, Greece. This meant that the USA had to play an extra match in the same amount of days compared to the teams in the first two groups. The top two teams in each group, along with the third place team in Group G and the best third/last place team from the other two groups advanced to the quarterfinals (old BigSoccer.com thread).

Concerning the geographic factor, all three European teams were placed into separate groups. The two Asian teams, China and Japan, were put into the same pot, which meant that they would not be in the same group. The final pot consisted of the second North American representative, Mexico, and the representatives from Africa, Nigeria, and Oceania, Australia. (In 2006, Australia would move to the Asian federation. The Matildas have not qualified for an Olympics, since.) The USSoccer.com press release for this draw specifically noted that Mexico could not be drawn into the USA’s group.

The 2004 Olympics was the only time that the host (Greece)  was drawn into the same group as one of the two-best ranked teams (the USA, #2). Greece did avoid the #1 team, Germany, who were also reigning Women’s World Cup champions. This was also the only tournament where the defending gold medalists (Norway) did not qualify for the Olympics. As in 2011, the 2003 Women’s World Cup was used as the decider for the next year’s Olympic tournament.

2008, Beijing, China: This was the first tournament to feature 12 teams, who were divided into three groups of four. The top two-ranked teams, Germany and the USA, along with the host, China, were placed into separate pots but also placed into different groups. Each of those three teams were placed in a red ball, signifying that ball would be picked first, while the rest of the teams were in white balls.

China was placed into Pot 1, along with the two other Asian teams, North Korea and Japan, ensuring that those three teams would not be in the same group. Similarly, Germany was placed in the same pot as the two other European teams, Norway and Sweden.

Likewise, Pot 3 had the USA, and the other team from North America, Canada. The final team was the best team from South America, Brazil.

Pot 4 contained the rest of the countries: Nigeria, from Africa, New Zealand from Oceania, and Argentina from South America. The draw procedure specifically stated that Colombia could not be in the same group as Brazil.

Also, Past Women’s World Cups: The draw procedures for the last two Women’s World Cups are available on FIFA’s website.  These procedures are essentially similar to the 2008 Olympic tournament draw procedure, which reinforces the probability that the basic rules of that procedure will be used in the future.

2007 WWC: draw procedure (FIFA.com), groups (FIFA.com).
2011 WWC: draw procedure (FIFA.com), groups (FIFA.com).

The 2011 WWC procedures were roughly the same as for the 2008 Olympics. The host, Germany, was placed in Group A, in the first slot. Germany was also the reigning World Cup Champion and the best-ranked team in UEFA. Three other teams were also included in the same pot with Germany: Japan (the best-ranked team in Asia), USA (the best-ranked team in CONCACAF), and Brazil (the best-ranked team in CONMEBOL). These three teams were pre-selected to be in Groups B, C, and D, respectively. All three teams were given the first slot inside their groups.

For the 2011 WWC, except for UEFA, which had 5 teams (host Germany plus 4 others), no confederation could have two or more teams in the same group. This is essentially the same as the geographical requirement in the Olympic tournament: just replace “confederation” with “continent.”

The 2007 WWC draw procedures differed slightly from those that would be used for the 2011 WWC. Host China was placed in Group A, slot #1. Germany, as reigning WWC champion, were placed into Group A, spot #1. The next top two teams, USA and Norway, were placed in the same pot as China and Germany, but were not seeded into specific groups or given specific slots. However, North Korea, then the best-ranked team in Asia, was placed in Group B.

As in the 2011 WWC, no group could have more than one nation from the same confederation, except for the group (Group A), which had two teams from UEFA.

In the 2003 WWC, which the USA hosted and was defending champion, the top four teams, based on the then new world rankings were all seeded into different groups (USSoccer.com news item on the USA’s group).