Let’s face it, with the Premier League round the corner, it is easy to forget that Olympics does feature a football event. However, there will be a sense of weirdness to the competition – you know there will be some players you recognise, you may watch a few games but you hardly remember who won the last four tournaments. Not every nation pays particular attention to this competition but hey, for those who are in it, trust me – they will try their best to win it.
So let us take you through a few things that you should know about the upcoming competition in Rio de Janiero (4 – 20 Aug).
It is more evenly-represented than the World Cup
Europe usually gets around half of all the FIFA World Cup slots which is probably fair, given the continent’s history and talent. It is not like that in the Olympics. There will be just four European nations going to Rio de Janiero, a mere 25% of the 16 teams. South America gets two slots (excluding the hosts Brazil), like their neighbours North America (AKA CONCACAF). Asia and Africa get three slots each whilst there is always a guaranteed representative from Oceania, unlike in the World Cup where they have to face a play-off game. This year, the sunny island of Fiji will carry Oceania’s hopes against the big boys.
Each nation can only select 18 players
For some reason, each participating nation can only select a total of 18 players. Four of the 16 nations will eventually play 6 games, so injuries and suspensions will play a more important part than in other international competitions like the Euros or Copa America. Only three of the 18 players can be “over-aged”, ie above the age of 23 (born before 1 January 1993).
Seven venues will be used for Rio 2016
Olympics events are generically confined to a city but the football competition will use a total of seven different venues across Brazil. All these events were used in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, including Mineirão in the city of Belo Horizonte. If that sounds vaguely familiar, it is. It is the infamous venue where the big boys of Brazil lost 7-1 to Germany in 2014. For the record, Brazil will not play in this ground in Rio 2016 unless they enter the bronze-medal play-off game.
Brazil have a poor record in the Olympics
Brazil is of course a proud footballing nation, having won the FIFA World Cups five times and the Copa America eight times. They have, however, never won gold in the Olympics ever before – despite having participated in 12 previous editions. They won silver on three occasions, the last in 2012 where they suffer a shock defeat in the Final (AKA Gold Medal Match) to Mexico. Suffice to say, they have extremely high hopes to win the tournament here as hosts …. just like they did back in 2014.
Neymar will headline
Barcelona superstar Neymar will headline the competition here, after the Brazilian federation agreed to leave him out of the 2016 Copa America. Beijing Guoan’s Renato Augusto and 38-year-old goalkeeper Fernando Prass make up the other over-aged players for the hosts, but you may also have heard of PSG’s highly rated defender, Marquinhos (22yo). Arsenal fans will be interested to know that they have two representatives here, Germany’s Serge Gnarby and newly acquired Japanese striker Takuma Asano. Spurs will be represented by South Korean superstar Son Heung-min (over-aged).
Brazil are of course overwhelming favourites, having picked Neymar to lead the lines. However, like we saw in 2014, there is a high possibility of them crumbling under pressure. Furthermore, the federation is in all sorts of problems after a disastrous 2016 Copa America campaign and manager Rogério Micale is a mere two months into the job. Argentina, the other South American powerhouse, have selected no one of note and like Brazil, faces deep-rooted administrative problems with their federation.
Mexico has an incredibly experienced U23 squad and will be led by Oscar Peralta upfront. Peralta starred at this stage four years ago and will relish the chance to defend the gold.
Otherwise, at this age group, you can also expect Asian giants South Korea and Japan to do exceptionally well given their tactical discipline and fitness level.
Bronze: South Korea