Tuesday 27 July 2021, 10:35

Excitement all the way in every group

  • Fifteen of 16 men’s teams still in contention ahead of final group matches

  • No team yet guaranteed their place in the quarter-finals

  • Only Saudi Arabia have already been eliminated

With almost every scenario still possible in the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament, excitement is guaranteed in the last round of group matches on Wednesday.

In Group A, hosts Japan are not certain of a place in the knockout stages despite being the only team in the tournament to have won both of their games. A draw against France would be enough to ensure they progress as group winners.

The most exciting situation by far is unfolding in Group B. With Korea Republic, Honduras, New Zealand and Romania currently tied on three points apiece, all four sides will undoubtedly be keeping one eye on events in the other game in their group as the final whistle approaches.

Any team in Group C could also still go home or move into the next round, with top-of-the-table Spain only needing a draw against Argentina to qualify for the last-eight. The same is true for Australia in their encounter with Egypt, who must win to remain in the competition. This could be a tough ask for the Pharaohs, who have so far focused on being defensively robust and are the only team yet to score at the tournament.

The situation in Group D is clearest of all. Saudi Arabia are already eliminated with zero points despite a strong performance against Germany on Sunday, while their most recent conquerors must defeat Côte d’Ivoire in a winner-takes-all tussle to reach the last eight. Meanwhile group leaders Brazil will be assured of a place in the knockout stage if they share the points with Saudi Arabia.

Match schedule (all time local)

Wednesday 28 July Germany-Côte d’Ivoire Miyagi Stadium, 17:00

Saudi Arabia-Brazil Saitama Stadium, 17:00

Romania-New Zealand Sapporo Dome, 17:30

Korea Republic-HondurasKorea Republic-Honduras Yokohama International Stadium, 17:30

Australia–EgyptAustralia–Egypt Miyagi Stadium, 20:00

Spain-Argentina Saitama Stadium, 20:00

South Africa-Mexico Sapporo Dome, 20:30

France-Japan Yokohama International Stadium, 20:30

Key points

Gignac in fine form Ahead of Tokyo 2020, French attacking hopes rested on the shoulders of Andre-Pierre Gignac – and the Tigres striker has not disappointed, netting four times to take an early lead in the tournament’s goalscoring charts. "This victory brings us together, and now we’ve got a big final game against Japan," Gignac said after his side’s 4-3 win over South Africa. "We know the Japanese are playing at home. We’ve got to have the desire to really excel and give it our all. The energy within the squad is incredible, but we’re still here, and we’re still in this fight."

Kubo scores as skipper Yoshida turns to next challenge The hosts have primarily built their team around Takefuso Kubo, dubbed the “Japanese Messi”. The supremely talented 20-year-old has responded well to the expectations of a nation, scoring in both his side’s 2-1 win over Mexico and their 1-0 victory against South Africa. The Samurai Blue are understandably keen to push on given their form in the tournament so far. "Everyone knows how important that second match was for us," said captain Maya Yoshida. "France have a chance to progress too, so it’ll be a tough game."

Arnold already planning for quarter-finals Australia have been one of the surprise packages of the tournament so far. After an impressive opening win over Argentina, they conceded late on to lose 1-0 to resounding Group C favourites Spain. Yet there is nothing negative about this result as far as Australia coach Graham Arnold is concerned: "I’m very, very proud of the players and performance. It was a fantastic effort against an obviously very good football nation in Spain. We’re sitting here today with qualification in our own hands."

Although the Olyroos will be without Mitch Duke, Riley McGree and Nathaniel Atkinson for their decisive final group match due to injuries and suspension, Arnold is not worried: "We’ve got depth and fresh players ready to go. Okay, three players are suspended but they will be ready for the quarter-finals."

Germany show steely mentality Germany’s mentality has been a key hallmark of their Olympic performances so far. After being outclassed against Brazil and going down to ten men, they battled back from 3-0 down to suffer a 4-2 defeat. They then lost the lead twice against Saudi Arabia and saw red again before netting a winner despite their numerical disadvantage. "Winning matches like that gives you a bigger boost than winning 4-0," Nadiem Amiri said after the final whistle. With just 14 outfield players at his disposal for the last group game against Côte d’Ivoire due to suspension and injuries, coach Stefan Kuntz will have to rely on his team’s grit and determination once again.

Spain make history Although Spain boast the most well-known squad at Tokyo 2020 together with Brazil, they had to wait until the 81st minute of their second group match against Australia before scoring a winner courtesy of a Mikel Oyarzabal header. It was a very special strike given that the 1992 Olympic champions last won a match at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament back in 2000 and were eliminated from London 2012 without scoring a single goal. The Iberian side are hoping that this is just the start. "We need to keep playing our way, as the team believes in it and everyone knows what to do," said Oyarzabal. "But it’ll be tough; you don’t get anything for free here. Although it’ll be good for us to have a change of scenery, getting that first win was the most important thing for us."

As a reminder, the top two sides in each of the three groups go through, along with the two best third-placed teams. If two or more teams in the same group are equal on points after completion of the group stage, the criteria stipulated in the competition regulations art. 30.6 (Men's Olympic Football Tournament) / 34.6 (Women's Olympic Football Tourament) shall apply.