Wednesday 21 July 2021, 09:36

Big names, a group of dreams and the Japanese Messi

  • The Men’s Olympic Football Tournament gets underway on Thursday

  • Defending champions Brazil face Germany in a repeat of the Rio 2016 final

  • High-quality groups promise excitement aplenty

Hot on the heels of the women’s tournament that began on Wednesday, the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament kicks off on Thursday – still a full day before the opening ceremony. That makes this competition so appealing is that it gives us not only a glimpse of the stars of tomorrow but also a chance to see some former FIFA World Cup™ winners in action. Anyone looking back through the results from previous editions will also know that this makes the men’s tournament extremely difficult to predict – as it is not always the big names who triumph. Egypt-Spain Sapporo Dome, 16.30 local time Mexico-France Tokyo Stadium, 17.00 local time New Zealand-Korea Republic Ibaraki Kashima Stadium, 17.00 local time Côte d'Ivoire-Saudi Arabia International Stadium Yokohama, 17.30 local time Argentina-Australia Sapporo Dome, 19.30 local time Honduras-Romania Ibaraki Kashima Stadium, 20.00 local time Japan-South Africa Tokyo Stadium, 20.00 local time

Brazil-Germany International Stadium Yokohama, 20.30 local time


Special rule adds star power On the one hand, the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament gives us a glimpse of the future as young players write the first exciting chapters in their international careers. Yet the competition’s special rule allowing each squad to name three over-age players means we can also feast our eyes on some household names. Brazil legend Dani Alves and his compatriot Richarlison will be keen to make their mark on proceedings, and France have a reigning world champion in their ranks in Florin Thauvin. While the inclusion of cult figure Max Kruse in the Germany squad is sure to cause a stir, several other countries also have some interesting players in their ranks. A rematch of the final Brazil’s victory over Germany in front of a home crowd at the final in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 allowed them to inflict at least some revenge for their infamous defeat in the semi-finals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ two years earlier. After Neymar and Maximilian Meyer scored either side of half-time, it fell to the Brazilian superstar to convert the decisive spot-kick in the eventual penalty shootout. "The Olympics can make a big difference to a player’s character development," said Germany coach Stefan Kuntz, who steered his country to glory at the UEFA European U-21 Championship in 2017 and 2021

Group of death? No way... As is customary in the run-up to every tournament, fans have been fiercely debating which of this year’s groups is the 'group of death'. While both Group A (Japan, France, Mexico and South Africa) and Group D (Brazil, Germany, Côte d’Ivoire, Saudi Arabia) could stake a claim to this title, Group C (Spain, Argentina, Australia and Egypt) arguably has the edge. Yet Graham Arnold, coach of the traditionally easy-going Australians, is having none of it: "Some people might call it the 'group of death', but for me it’s a 'group of dreams'. It’s the stuff dreams are made of. You want to play against these teams and test yourself against the best in the world." High hopes for the 'Japanese Messi' The hosts’ medal hopes are blossoming after three impressive wins against Argentina, Ghana and Jamaica and defeat to Argentina in their preparations for the Olympics. The hopes of a nation understandably rest on the shoulders of 20-year-old midfielder Takefusa Kubo, who travelled to the FIFA U-20 World Cup™ with his country at the tender age of 15 and has already been dubbed the 'Japanese Messi' thanks to his lively dribbling and strong left foot. "I’d previously only seen Messi play on TV," the Real Madrid man told "I really hope that I can be as good a player as he is; a player that everyone can watch and admire." Scoring a goal after nutmegging four players is a pretty good start!

El Gignac out for bragging rights Nearly five after his last appearance for France's national team, Andre-Pierre Gignac returns to the fold and is set for his first appearance in an international tournament with the Les Bleus. As fate would have it, that match is against Mexico, the country in which he has played - and dazzled - for the last six years. "I especially do not want to lose this match, which is a special one for me. If we return home before the Mexicans, we are dead - they will tease us for a long time," Gignac told French newspaper L'Équipe ahead of the tournament. France also have within their ranks 2018 world champion Florian Thauvin, who recently joined Gignac at Tigres.

A strong message on concussion For the first time at the Olympic Football Tournaments, FIFA – in line with IFAB’s circular No21 – will implement a protocol whereby:

  • each team will be permitted to use a maximum of one concussion substitute per match;

  • this concussion substitution may be made regardless of the number of substitutes already used.

This has been introduced with the aim of sending a strong message – ‘if in doubt, sit them out’ – that prioritises player welfare, reduces pressure on medical personnel to make a quick decision and avoids the prospect of teams concerned being left at a numerical disadvantage. Concussion substitutes have already been trialled by FIFA at both the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2020 and the recent FIFA Arab Cup qualifiers and, as with the latter event, there will be official concussion ‘spotters’ in the stands at Tokyo 2020 to help identify problematic head injuries.