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Five players to watch
by Paul Kennedy, August 6th, 2008 7AM



[OLYMPIC MEN] While all teams didn't use their allotment of three overage (over-23) players for the Olympic men's soccer tournament, the favorites are all counting on veterans to play key roles in attack.

RONALDINHO. The Olympics were so important to the 28-year-old Brazilian that he made his release for the Beijing Games part of his agreement to join AC Milan from Barcelona. "What motivates me the most is the chance to make history in Brazilian football and win this first gold medal," Ronaldinho says. "We all know that if we win this medal, we will make history. It's an unprecedented title. It's a very important competition, just as important to us the World Cup and other big tournaments." The closest Brazil has come to winning a goal was in 1984 and 1988 when it finished second to France and the Soviet Union, respectively. Ronaldinho was on the Brazil team that lost to Cameroon in the 2000 quarterfinals. Brazil didn't qualify four years ago.

JUAN ROMAN RIQUELME. The 30-year-old playmaker may have had an up-and-down club career, but he has been sensational for Argentina, which he led to the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup, where it should be noted Argentina lost to host Germany on penalty kicks after he was subbed out. Riquelme came out of a short international retirement to score five goals for Argentina at the 2007 Copa America and had two goals apiece in a pair of World Cup qualifiers last fall. He won four Libertadores Cup with Boca Juniors; his only title with Argentina came at the 1997 Under-20 World Cup.

PETER ODEMWINGIE. The 27-year-old winger is the lone overage player in Nigeria's squad after Vincent Enyeama and Ikechukwu Uche were denied permission by their clubs to represent the Dream Team IV in China. Odemwingie was born in Uzbekistan to a Nigerian father and Russian father, moved back to Nigeria, where his father was a doctor, when he was 2 and later moved to Moscow to enter the CSKA youth system. Most of his career has been spent in Belgium and France, though he returned to Moscow last year to play for Lokomotiv.

ROY MAKAAY. Few teams have taken the Olympics men's tournament as seriously as the Netherlands, which will field a host of underage stars to provide service for the 33-year-old Makaay, one of the most consistent goal scorers in European soccer for more than a decade. Makaay has scored 231 league goals in a career that began at Vitesse and took him to Tenerife and Deportivo La Coruna in Spain and Bayern Munich in Germany and back to the Netherlands at Feyenoord.

TOMASSO ROCCHI. The 30-year-old Lazio forward is Italy's only overage player, picked by Coach Pierluigi Casiraghi for his leadership and scoring ability. "I think Tommaso is going to score a lot of goals during the Olympics," says Casiraghi. Rocchi, who has scored a minimum of 13 league goals in each of his four seasons at Lazio, will be counted upon to guide the young Italians, including New Jersey product Giuseppe Rossi. "Tommaso is an expert player and an important one," adds Casiraghi. "He is also a great person and has a lot of respect from younger players."

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