Banyana start SA medal chase
A steward gives directions to a woman at the entrance gate, at the Millennium Stadium prior to the start of the women's group E soccer match between Great Britain and New Zealand. (Luca Bruno, AP)
London - Women's soccer kicks off the London 2012 Olympics on Wednesday - two days before the official start - as athletes pour into the country and organisers put the final touches on the opening ceremony.
The referee's whistle at 15:00 will start not only Great Britain and New Zealand's clash at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, but will open a 19-day festival of sport watched by billions around the globe.
South Africa face Sweden, Brazil play Cameroon, and Colombia are against North Korea as battle begins for a Games-wide total of 302 gold medals culminating on 12 August.
Hope Powell's side will become the first combined British team to play an Olympics in 52 years, in the first of six games on day one also taking in Scotland's Glasgow and Coventry in central England.
In Coventry, world champions Japan open their bid for a famous double when they take on Canada, while heavyweights the United States play France at Glasgow's Hampden Park.
"It puts women's football out there, puts it on the map and hopefully will showcase the sport," British coach Powell told the BBC, when asked about opening the Games.
"It's our first time as Team GB and you will be nervous, but I'm sure they will rise to the occasion," she added.Streaming in
Heathrow Airport is expecting another 3 700 athletes, coaches officials and media on Wednesday as competitors fill up the athletes village at sprawling Olympic Park, built on a disused industrial site in east London.
At the Games, Usain Bolt is hoping for a second successive sprint treble, Michael Phelps needs just three more swimming medals to become history's most decorated Olympian, and Roger Federer leads a galaxy of tennis stars.
China are bidding to top the medals table for a second successive Games, after amassing 51 gold medals at their glittering home event four years ago in Beijing.
Meanwhile "Slumdog Millionaire" director Danny Boyle will lead a team of 10 000 participants in the full dress rehearsal for Friday's hotly anticipated opening ceremony.
While details of the curtain-raiser - which has much to live up to after Beijing's lavish opener - are a closely guarded secret, the show is expected to feature cows and sheep along with Sir Paul McCartney and David Beckham.
"It is some kind of role in the opening ceremony which I am honoured to be involved in because obviously I was involved in the start process with this seven years ago," said Beckham, a key part of the London bid who has been overlooked for Britain's men's football team.