Although the opening ceremonies are on Friday, Olympic competition begins Wednesday with the start of the women's football (soccer) tournament.  At the Beijing Games in China, VOA's Jim Stevenson has this preview.

Because the 12-nation Olympic football tournament is long, play is starting ahead of the opening ceremonies.  The first games are being played in Qinhuangdao, Shenyang and Tianjin.

The four top teams from last year's Women's World Cup, which was held in China, are considered the favorites in this tournament.  World Cup champion Germany plays Brazil in a rematch of last year's final.  The United States opens against Norway in a rematch of the bronze medal game won by the Americans.

But a broken leg is keeping prolific U.S. scorer Abby Wambach out of the Olympics.  Veteran teammate Heather O'Reilly says the U.S. women have the versatility to compensate for Wambach's absence.

"We have had a lot of changing starting lineups," she said.  "And goals are coming from a ton of different places and a ton of different people.  And that can not be anything but positive for our group."

The Americans are led by Swedish-born coach Pia Sundhage, who was an assistant with the Chinese national team at last year's Women's World Cup.  Concern about polluted air in China has been a major topic ahead of the Olympics.  But Sundhage says the conditions have to be considered a part of the game.

"The two teams have the same air to breathe," Sundhage said.  "So you have to deal with that.  And that might be a certain thing for the coach.  Depending on the first game, the second game, how tired players are and so on.  It is a problem.  But again we will have to deal with that.  And it is the same condition for both teams."

Host China is also in action against Sweden.  Other nations in the Olympic women's football tournament are Argentina, Canada, North Korea, Nigeria, Japan and New Zealand.

The tournament will wrap up with the bronze and gold medal games on Thursday, August 21 at Workers Stadium in Beijing.  The men's tournament begins on Thursday.