1996 Olympic soccer

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Logo for the 1996 Olympic soccer games at Legion Field on a commémorative pinback.

The 1996 Olympic soccer competition as part of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta included eight men's and three women's games in both the Olympic tournaments played at Legion Field in July 1996. Birmingham was one of four sites outside of Georgia selected to host men's and women's soccer matches as part of the Olympics. Prior to the competition several upgrades were made to Legion Field, with the most notable being that of converting the artificial turf field to natural grass. The crowd of 83,183 in attendance on July 20, 1996 for both the Birmingham opening ceremony and 3–1 victory by Argentina over the United States marked the largest crowd to ever witness a sporting event at Legion Field.


In April 1993, the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games sent letters to thirty cities soliciting bids to host Olympic soccer matches. At the time of the announcement, the Committee was to recommend four locations with each to host between six and eighteen games. The cities that received a request for bids included: Austin, Baltimore, Birmingham, Charlotte, Chattanooga, Cincinnati, Columbia, Columbus (OH), Dallas, Durham, Greensboro, Houston, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Lexington, Louisville, Memphis, Miami, Nashville, New Orleans, Orlando, Philadelphia, Raleigh, Richmond, San Antonio, St. Louis, Tampa, Washington, and West Palm Beach.

On June 8, the Birmingham Area Chamber of Commerce's Gold Medal Committee established a task force with the goal of securing Olympic soccer events at Legion Field. Birmingham-Southern College athletic director Rob Moxley served as head administrator for the bid and at the time Larry Lemak stated the event could have a financial impact on greater Birmingham from $500 million to $1.2 billion. On July 15, Birmingham submitted its bid that included: plans for an opening ceremony, an athletes' village, VIP hospitality for sponsors, entertainment for Olympian families, and a ticket program.

On July 20, Birmingham was selected as one of the finalists to host Olympic soccer events along with Boston, Dallas, Miami, Washington, and Orlando. On August 6 members of the Atlanta Committee made a formal visit to Birmingham to evaluate the city and Legion Field as adequate to host the games. On September 20 Birmingham was formally selected as a host city for Olympic soccer along with Miami, Orlando, and Washington.


After being selected, preparations for the games commenced. One requirement was to convert the artificial turf that had been in in place at Legion Field since 1969 back to a natural grass playing surface. The turf was removed in February 1995 and subsequently reinstalled at Lawson Field. The grass field was installed through the spring and summer of 1995 and consisted of Tifton 419 Bermuda grass. A new drainage system was also installed with the capability to remove 80,000 gallons of water per hour. The reconstructed field made the stadium the only one in the United States that could host college football, Canadian football, and FIFA soccer by only needing to move the goalposts.

The Birmingham Olympic Village was located at the residential quad of Birmingham-Southern College. Joe Phillips served as the director of the Olympic Village, and it hosted 125 athletes. In addition to private rooms, the Olympic Village also included: a hair salon, a message therapy clinic, post office, souvenir shop, and 24-hour food service.


Men's tournament games
Date Round Team #1 Score Team #2 Referee Attendance
Country Scorer Time of score Country Scorer Time of score
July 20, 1996 Group Stage Argentina Gustavo Adrián López
Hernán Crespo
Diego Simeone
3–1 United States Claudio Reyna 1' Lucien Bouchardeau 83,183
July 21, 1996 Group Stage Mexico Francisco Palencia 83' 1–0 Italy Hugh Dallas 44,211
July 22, 1996 Group Stage United States Jovan Kirovski
Brian Maisonneuve
2–0 Tunisia Hugh Dallas 45,687
July 23, 1996 Group Stage Mexico 0–0 South Korea Lucien Bouchardeau 26,111
July 24, 1996 Group Stage Argentina Ariel Ortega 5' 1–1 Tunisia Mohamed Mkacher 74' Pirom Un-prasert 16,826
July 25, 1996 Group Stage Italy Marco Branca 24'
2–1 South Korea Lee Ki-hyung 62' Robert Ruben Ruscio 28,319
July 27, 1996 Quarter-finals Argentina Hernán Crespo
Agustín Aranzábal
Claudio López
Hernán Crespo
52' (own goal)
4–0 Spain Gamal Al-Ghandour 43,507
July 28, 1996 Quarter-finals Nigeria Jay-Jay Okocha
Celestine Babayaro
2–0 Mexico Omer Al Mehannah 44,788
Women's tournament games
Date Round Team #1 Score Team #2 Referee Attendance
Country Scorer Time of score Country Scorer Time of score
July 21, 1996 Group Stage Germany Bettina Wiegmann
Yumi Tomei
Heidi Mohr
29' (own goal)
3–2 Japan Futaba Kioka
Akemi Noda
Sonia Denoncourt 44,211
July 23, 1996 Group Stage Brazil Kátia Cilene Teixeira
2–0 Japan Ingrid Jonsson 26,111
July 25, 1996 Group Stage Brazil Sissi 53' 1–1 Germany Pia Wunderlich 4' Sonia Denoncourt 28,319