Tokyo Olympics: Women's soccer preview
Out for revenge, the United States is looking to secure a record fifth women's soccer gold in Tokyo after failing to medal for the first time in the event's history in 2016.
While the Stars and Stripes are unanimously considered the world's best team, the field is growing stronger and there will be multiple legitimate challengers eager to take on the Americans in Tokyo.
Odds to win gold
The U.S. is the No. 1-ranked team in the world and the heavy favorites to win gold this summer after being on a warpath since losing to Sweden during the 2016 semifinals. The Americans will be looking to become the first nation to follow up a World Cup win (2019) with Olympic gold.
Undefeated over 44 matches dating back to 2019, the U.S. looks primed to return to the top of the podium during its first international tournament under head coach Vlatko Andonovski. Sam Mewis, Crystal Dunn, Julie Ertz, Tobin Heath, Rose Lavelle, Megan Rapinoe, and Alex Morgan highlight a squad absolutely loaded with elite talent and experience.
Their biggest challengers will be a Netherlands team that can score goals in bunches. With prolific forwards Vivianne Miedema - the Women's Super League's record-breaking scorer - and her running mate Lieke Martens leading the way, the Dutch certainly aren't lacking in big-game pedigree while debuting in the Olympics. The team's relentless attack makes it capable of pulling off an upset, though the Netherlands lost 2-0 to the U.S. during the 2019 Women's World Cup final, and lost by the same score to the Americans in a November 2020 friendly.
The better value is with Great Britain to pull off the upset. While the majority of its players come from England - a team that narrowly lost to the U.S. during the 2019 Women's World Cup semifinal - adding Scotland's Kim Little and Caroline Weir will boost the squad. They join a stacked roster that also includes stars Lucy Bronze and Fran Kirby, and a strong supporting cast.
The main concern is this team has only played once previously together as Great Britain in 2012. So will things come together in time for a wonderfully talented group to reach its full potential?
Sweden and Canada are considered slight long shots to win gold in Tokyo after taking the silver and bronze, respectively, in 2016. With Kosovare Asllani - one of the world's most prolific midfielders - leading the way, the Swedes open against the U.S. in a rematch of that dramatic 2016 semifinal upset. Sweden fell 1-0 in extra time to the Netherlands during the 2019 Women's World Cup semis, and the country lost 2-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of that tournament - one of its three defeats to the Americans since beating the United States in 2016.
Canada's futility against the U.S. extends much longer. Despite several tightly contested matches - including a 4-3 extra-time thriller during the 2012 Olympics - the Canadians haven't beaten the Americans since 2001. This will be the fourth Olympic appearance for all-time top international scorer Christine Sinclair. But she's 38 years old, so it's time for the next generation to step up and cement their legacy for Canada.
Canada is in transition, as evidenced by a 3-0 loss to the U.S. during the 2020 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship final. But with Kadeisha Buchanan, Ashley Lawrence, and Nichelle Prince ready to emerge as household names, a third successive podium finish isn't out of the question.
Hosts Japan have spent years preparing for this moment, naming a young World Cup squad and also aiming to provide important experience for its players ahead of this tournament. Saki Kumagai and Mana Iwabuchi - nicknamed the "Female Maradona" - will excite the home fans plenty, but Japan earning a medal would be surprising.
The same can be said about Brazil, a country with a golden generation past its prime. And Australia, despite Sam Kerr - arguably the world's best player coming into this tournament - leading the team.