London, England – Soccer powerhouses Brazil and Spain begin their quest for Olympic gold on Thursday, when the men's first round gets underway with eight matches spread out over five locations.
One day ahead of the London Games' opening ceremony, men's soccer is the only scheduled event on Thursday, but should offer plenty of excitement throughout the day.
Brazil comes in as the favorite to win the gold medal -- which would be the country's first -- and opens Group C play against Egypt at Millennium Stadium, home of Wales' national team. Brazil is a five-time World Cup winner and Luiz "Mano" Menezes' squad is looking to build momentum ahead of the 2014 World Cup. Brazil has its eye on winning that event on home soil and the London Games could serve as a jump-off point as well as a chance for 20-year-old Santos forward Neymar to break out in front of the entire world.
Brazil will have to take its shot at gold without top goalkeeper Rafael Cabral, who withdrew from the Olympics due to an elbow injury and will be replaced in a starting role by Neto.
Spain is also expected to battle for gold, which had been won the previous two Summer Games by Argentina, and opens play against fellow Group D resident Japan at Scotland's Hampden Park.
Spain has received plenty of recent decoration as of late, winning the 2010 World Cup as well as claiming the European Championships in 2008 and 2012. Jordi Alba was a big part of that recent title and the 23-year-old hopes to shine again in London.
For hosting Great Britain, Thursday will mark its return to the men's Olympic tournament for the first time since 1960 and captain Ryan Giggs will lead his team against Senegal in the last scheduled game at Old Trafford. Giggs will certainly feel at home as his professional club, Manchester United, makes its home there.
Joining the hosts in Group A is another medal favorite in Uruguay, which takes on United Arab Emirates earlier in the day at Old Trafford.
While Brazil should finish in the top spot in Group C, Belarus and New Zealand battle on Thursday in an effort to get an early track at the second spot. Also, with Spain and Japan set to open play against each other, a clash between fellow Group D residents Honduras and Morocco will offer early hope of moving on for both countries.
Group B, which consists of Mexico, Korea, Switzerland and Gabon, is expected to be the tightest group, with all four teams having a shot at qualifying. Mexico, which won the prestigious under-21 Toulon tournament last month, opens play on Thursday against Korea, while Gabon and Switzerland clash at St James' Park.
Like Argentina, the United States did not qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games.