Tokyo Olympics: Men's soccer preview
The Olympics technically begin with the July 23 opening ceremony, but the men's soccer tournament will give us an early taste of the games, with each country's first group stage match scheduled for Thursday the 22nd.
Let's break down the field.
Odds to win gold
|1988||Soviet Union||Brazil||West Germany|
|1980||Czechoslovakia||East Germany||Soviet Union|
Just a couple weeks removed from losing to Italy in the semifinals of Euro 2020, Spain are favorites to claim men's soccer gold in Tokyo. Team restrictions typically limit nations to selecting players 23-years-old or younger with three over-age exceptions. But with the pandemic pushing the games back a year, FIFA has opted to use the same age eligibility criteria as it intended in 2020 - meaning 24-year-olds (players born on or after January 1, 1997) will be eligible for the first time since 1988.
Spain are perhaps the biggest beneficiaries, as the change allows them to bring a large portion of their Euro squad to Tokyo. Five players who started the semifinal against Italy will represent La Roja in their quest for gold: Unai Simon, Eric Garcia, Pedri, Mikel Oyarzabal, and Dani Olmo. The quintet highlights an incredibly strong squad, which also includes Marc Cucurella, Pau Torres, and Carlos Soler, as well as over-agers Mikel Merino, Dani Ceballos, and Marco Asensio. Spain are worthy of their tag as tournament frontrunners.
Brazil, out to defend their crown, have the second-best odds to win gold. The Selecao boast a lethal attack, as Paulinho, Matheus Cunha, Richarlison, Antony, and Gabriel Martinelli provide them with an embarrassment of riches. Brazil have experience at the back through over-agers Diego Carlos and Dani Alves and some exciting talent in midfield, including Bruno Guimares, Gabriel Menino, and Reinier.
The last time France medaled in men's soccer was back in 1984, but they are being given a good chance of returning to the podium this summer. The squad is a bit underwhelming, though, with a lot of weight sure to fall on the shoulders of over-agers Andre-Pierre Gignac and Florian Thauvin. While there is certainly some bright young talent on this team, the Blues are in a tier below the likes of Spain and Brazil.
Germany makes a strong case to join France in that second tier, with their hopes hinging on a midfield anchored by over-agers Maximilian Arnold and Nadiem Amiri. Max Kruse will lead the line, but Die Mannschaft opted to leave much of their best young talent at home, leaving the club thin throughout the side.
However, the Germans do have a leg up on Argentina, which opted for a similar approach and left off many of their top young talents while also opting not to bring any over-agers to Tokyo. The result is a solid unit that should get out of Group C behind Spain but do little else beyond that.
Hosts Japan are bringing a strong squad in an attempt to win gold on home soil - highlighted by Wataru Endu, Takefusa Kubo, Hiroki Sakai, and Ritsu Doan - but the drop off in the rest of the starting XI means they will do well just to find their way onto the podium.
One darkhorse which certainly warrants monitoring is Ivory Coast. Franck Kessie and Eric Bailly will lead the Elephants in the Tokyo Games, while the likes of Christian Kouame, Idrissia Doumbia, and Max Gradel provide a strong supporting cast that could surprise this summer.
South Korea could also be primed for a run, possessing a respectable crew that has somewhat of a pass to the quarterfinals thanks to a relatively straightforward group with Honduras, New Zealand, and Romania.