Football has been an integral part of the Summer Olympics. The sport has been played at the Games every year except the 1896 and 1932 editions in Athens and Los Angeles, respectively.
The men's competition permits only players under the age of 23 to be part of the squads while allowing a maximum of three overaged stars per country. The 16 qualified men's teams at the Tokyo Olympics this year have been split evenly into four groups, with the top two from each group advancing to the quarterfinals.
This year the men's squads can have under-24 players due to the postponement of the Olympic Games by a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Here are some of the teams with the best chances to claim a medal during the latest edition of the quadrennial spectacle.
Spain is without a doubt the strongest side at the upcoming Olympics. It features six players who were part of Luis Enrique's EURO 2020 squad -- Unai Simon, Pau Torres, Eric Garcia, Pedri, Mikel Oyarzabal and Dani Olmo -- and boasts of the overaged Real Madrid midfield duo of Marco Asensio and Dani Ceballos too. The only concern could be that the players coming from the European Championship could be overworked, considering the long COVID-affected season. Head coach Luis de la Fuente has managed the Spanish youth outfits for a long time now, winning the UEFA U-19 and U-21 Championships in 2015 and 2019, respectively. He will need no introduction to most of the players in the squad as Spain attempts to win the gold medal after 29 years.
The Brazilians are the defending champions, and they may likely go the distance this year as well. However, they will be without Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) superstar Neymar, who starred in back-to-back final appearances for the Selecao. With a mixture of youth and experience, Brazil heads to Tokyo 2020 as the best team in the group of death, also featuring Ivory Coast and Germany. Sevilla centre-back Diego Carlos and former Barcelona, Juventus and PSG full-back Dani Alves, both of whom fill the overage slot, will guide the likes of Aston Villa midfielder Douglas Luiz, Everton forward Richarlison, who was also part of the country's 2021 Copa America campaign, and Arsenal winger Gabriel Martinelli on their Olympic journey.
In recent times, the French have produced some of the best youth teams in world football. France made the semifinals of all the youth competitions it was part of -- UEFA U-17, U-19, U-21 Championships and FIFA U-17 World Cup -- in 2019, the last time age-group tournaments took place before the pandemic. The 1984 gold winner will be bolstered by the inclusions of overaged Tigres UANL forwards Andre-Pierre Gignac and Florian Thauvin, who was a World Cup winner in 2018. Players like PSG's Timothee Pembele, Real Sociedad's Modibo Sagnan, who are both centre-backs, and Lille winger Isaac Lihadji are also part of the side. They are all loaded with potential and winners of major trophies with their clubs in the 2020-21 season.
Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2015 winners Max Gradel and Eric Bailly will spearhead Ivory Coast's attempts to win its first football medal at the Olympics. The experienced pair will be well supported by AC Milan star Franck Kessie and Bailly's Manchester United teammate Amad Diallo. Manager Soualiho Haidara was in charge of most players in the current squad during the 2019 U-23 AFCON, where the team finished as runner-up. Hence, despite being part of the group of death, Ivory Coast would back itself to advance to the quarters at the expense of the 2016 silver-medalist in Rio de Janeiro -- Germany.
These are the four groups in the men’s tournament:
- Newcastle smashes Sheffield United in 8-0 thrashing
- Tigst Assefa smashes women’s marathon world record in Berlin
- ISL 2023-24: Mumbai City FC beats NorthEast United FC 2-1
- Asian Games 2023: Chhetri and Jhingan turn coaches on field, guiding India into round of 16 in Hangzhou
- Chelsea trying to end goal drought after loss against Aston Villa