You were expecting the 2016-17 season previews weren’t you? Well, they are indeed to come in the next few days, but Thursday sees the start of the football tournament at the Rio Olympics so I thought I’d look ahead to the competition that runs until the 20th August. You probably don’t even know the teams involved, so let me give you a brief guide…
What’s the format?
There are 16 countries competing for a medal in four groups of four. The top two teams from each group progress to the knockout stages, with extra time and penalties if needed in these games. In March, it was agreed that a fourth substitution would be allowed to be made in extra time. As well as the final, there is also a third place play-off match to decide which of the losing semi-finalists takes the bronze medal.
Each team has a squad of 18 players, 15 of whom must be born on or after 1 January 1993, and three of whom can be older. There must be a minimum of two goalkeepers, whilst each team may also have a list of four alternate players, who may replace any player in the squad in case of injury during the tournament
What happened in 2012?
Mexico surprised fans and took the gold medal by beating Brazil 2-1 in the final at Wembley, whilst South Korea won the bronze medal as they defeated Japan 2-0 in the third place play-off. Hosts Great Britain competed for the first time since 1960, and won their group before losing to South Korea on penalties in the quarter-finals.
Which countries are involved this time around?
All the countries (except for hosts Brazil), qualified on their performances in each continent’s U21/U23 Championship, whilst CONCACAF (North and South America) held a qualifying championship.
- Group A: Brazil, South Africa, Iraq, Denmark
- Group B: Sweden, Colombia, Nigeria, Japan
- Group C: Fiji, South Korea, Mexico, Germany
- Group D: Honduras, Algeria, Portugal, Argentina
So there aren’t any big names on show?
Obviously the teams aren’t allowed to pick all their best players unless they were born since 1993 or they are chosen as one of their overage players. However, arguably the biggest player on show is Neymar, who was not taken to the Copa America by Brazil so that he was completely ready for this tournament. Other names from the hosts’ squad that you may recognise are Neymar’s Barcelona team-mate Rafinha, PSG defender Marquinhos and Felipe Anderson of Lazio.
The German squad also has some top flight stars, including brothers Lars Bender and Sven Bender, as well as promising youngsters, Timo Horn (FC Koln), Matthias Ginter (Borussia Dortmund), Max Meyer, Leon Goretzka (both FC Schalke) and Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen).
Finally, Atletico Madrid striker Angel Correa is the star name in the Argentina squad, who won gold in 2004 and 2008.
Any Premier League interest?
In total, there are six players at the Olympics who are on the books of Premier League clubs.
Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel (Nigeria) and Tottenham forward Son Heung-min (South Korea) are the most high profile names and both over 23 players for their respective countries.
In terms of younger of players, you’ll see Liverpool’s Portuguese centre-back Tiago Ilori, Manchester United goalkeeper Joel Castro Pereira for Mexico, and Arsenal pair Serge Gnabry (Germany) and new signing Takuma Asano (Japan).
Denmark have the most players in their squad who ply their trade in England, with Lasse Vibe (Brentford), Lasse Vigen Christensen (Fulham) and Nicolai Brock-Madsen (Birmingham City) amongst their contingent. Finally, Nottingham Forest’s 19 year old goalkeeper Tim Erlandsson is in the Sweden team.
Who are the favourites?
Hosts Brazil (evens) are arguably the favourites to win gold. After being stunned in the final four years ago, Olympic gold remains the only piece of silverware they haven’t won. They want it so much that they didn’t pick some players, including the aforementioned Neymar, for the Copa America earlier in the summer.
Behind them, Argentina (11/2) and Germany (6/1) should provide the closest competition, with the Germans especially known for their impressive youth system and bringing through players.
Surely Euro 2016 champions Portugal (10/1) can’t make it a summer of double success, whilst outside bet Sweden (25/1) shocked everybody at the Under-21 European Championships last summer by lifting the trophy, can they do the same again? It’s unlikely that reigning champions Mexico (22/1) can win it again.
Odds supplied by Paddy Power. You can see a full list of odds here. Remember you must be 18 years old or over to bet. #Gambleaware
Where can I watch it?
BBC have the Olympic broadcasting rights, and every game is being shown live on the red button. Because it’s in Brazil, there is of course a time difference as there was at the 2014 World Cup, meaning some games will be on in the early hours of the morning UK time.
So, what’s your prediction then Olly?
Here’s my brief thoughts on how the tournament will be pan out:
In Group A, Brazil will go through as winners with Denmark as runners-up. Nigeria will win Group B and qualify along with Sweden. Group C will see Germany and Mexico go through in first and second respectively. Finally, I expect Argentina to win Group D and Portugal to finish second.
That means the quarter-finals will see Brazil face Sweden, Nigeria play Denmark, Germany take on Portugal and Argentina battle Mexico. From those games, I think Brazil, Nigeria, Germany and Argentina will progress to the semi-finals and have a 3 in 4 chance of going home with a medal.
The ties will then be Brazil vs Germany (2014 World Cup semi-final anyone?!) and Argentina vs Nigeria, before Germany and Argentina progress to the final. Then in a repeat of the World Cup final two years ago, I think Germany will come out on top again and take gold. Brazil won’t win as the bookies think they will and the country’s FA wants them so badly to but will take the bronze medal after beating Nigeria.
- Gold – Germany
- Silver – Argentina
- Bronze – Brazil
Can I actually get a tournament prediction right for once?! I can also reveal that Nigerian centre-back William Troost-Ekong, my third cousin who I interviewed in January, will hopefully be providing a diary style article after the tournament finishes documenting his experience in Brazil. That is perhaps why I predicted Nigeria to reach the semi-finals, and they are who I will be supporting in the tournament, staying up until 2am to watch their opening game with Japan on Friday. Yes I am mad.