The inclusion of football as an Olympic sport is something that has often been debated as many feel the games should be reserved for those participating at the amateur level where Olympic Gold is the pinnacle of their career.
However, football has actually played a part in all but two Olympic Games missing out in the first games of 1896 and the eighth games of 1932. Therefore, football has a long history as an Olympic sport and 2016 will be the 26th time the men’s football gold medal has been competed for in the Olympic Games. The women’s football event was not added until the 1996 Olympic Games but has been involved in every one since.
The men’s football tournament at the 2016 Olympic Games will be played between the 4th to the 20th of August.
Although the host city of the 2016 Olympics is Rio, the men’s football tournament will actually take places across a number of different cities in Brazil. Making use of the infrastructure created for the 2014 football World Cup, a total of six cities will be used in total including Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Manaus, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Sao Paolo. There will be seven stadiums used, two of which are in Rio and one in each of the other six cities.
The final will be played at the famous Maracanã Stadium in Rio.
A total of 16 teams will contest the men’s football tournament with representatives from the six different confederations. Brazil has qualified as the host nation with Argentina and Colombia joining them as the other representatives from South America. Germany, Denmark, Portugal and Sweden have qualified from Europe with Fiji joining them from Oceania. South Africa, Nigeria and Algeria are representing Africa with Iraq, Japan and South Korea from Asia. The final two teams come from the Central American zone and they are Mexico and Honduras.
The teams have been drawn into four groups of four teams with each team in the group playing each other once. The top two from each group will advance to play in the quarterfinals, which is played on a pure knockout format. The two winning semi-finalists will contest the Gold medal and the losing semi-finalists will play for the Bronze medal.
As per the rules for Olympic football competitions, teams are only allowed to select players who are under the age of 23 (born on or after the 1st of January, 1993). Each team can also select three players over that age for their squad.
The pick of the players has to be Brazil and Barcelona forward Neymar, who at the age of 24, has been selected as one of Brazil’s over age players. Germany’s brotherly partnership in midfield, made up of Sven Bender and Lars Bender, has been selected to represent their country at the age of 27.
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The defending champions from 2012 are Mexico who defeated Brazil at Wembley in the final of the London Olympic Games. The Mexican squad features a lot of exciting young talent and all but one of their squad plays football currently in Mexico. The winning goal scorer from four years ago, Oribe Peralta, is back in the squad as one of the three over age players in addition to defender Jorge Torres Nilo and goalkeeper, Alfredo Talavera. The pick of the younger players includes Hirving Lozano and Rodolfo Pizarro from the Pachuca Club. At 22/1 with Paddy Power to win the Gold medal at the 2016 Olympic Games, Mexico makes for a very good outside bet.
The favourites for the 2016 men’s Olympic football tournament are none other than the Brazilians. They are treating this tournament with huge importance after having left Neymar out of their Copa America squad so he would be fit for this event. As the host nation, the pressure will be on and Brazil has yet to win an Olympic Gold medal despite their proud history in the sport. Barcelona’s midfielder Rafinha, Paris Saint-Germain defender Marquinhos, Lazio winger Felipe Anderson and the talented Renato Augusto, headline the Brazil squad and highlight the great talent they have at their disposal in this tournament. However, the main football team crumbled under the pressure at the 2014 World Cup despite having huge experience and at evens with sportsbook Paddy Power to win the 2016 Olympic football tournament, it would be a brave move to bet on Brazil.
Another South American favourite, who actually has a recent history of doing well at the Olympic Games, is Argentina. They claimed Gold at both the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games but on paper, their squad does not look the strongest in the tournament. With Lionel Messi, who starred in 2008, retired and the likes of Mauro Icardi and Paulo Dybala left out, the latter of which is under 23, perhaps Argentina is not taking the tournament as seriously as the hosts. The Argentine FA is also in a huge mess at the moment and despite the inclusion of Atletico Madrid striker Angel Correa and Diego Simeone’s son, Giovanni Simeone, the squad is not as strong as it could be. Argentina may progress to the knockout stages but at 11/2 with bookmaker Paddy Power to win the tournament, they do not provide great value.
Looking at the European contenders, Germany has a very strong looking squad. Only one player represents a club outside of Germany and that’s Arsenal’s Serge Gnabry, who has looked good when given the opportunity in the Premier League. The Bender twins provide great experience in the centre of midfield and with Timo Horn of Koln in goal, Mathias Ginter of Borussia Dortmund in defence, Julian Brandt of Bayer Leverkusen in midfield in addition to Max Meyer of Schalke, the German’s have a very talented team. Their only weakness may be up-front but otherwise at 7/1 with Paddy Power, Germany has to be considered a real threat.
Portuguese football is on a high after their win at Euro 2016 and their Olympic squad features a number of players who finished runners-up at the 2015 European Under-21 Championship. Paddy Power has them at 10/1 to win the Gold medal, which is a little on the short side.
Nigeria looks to be the strongest team from Africa and will be led by Chelsea midfielder, Jon Obi Mikel. There are 16 full internationals on the Nigeria squad and they include a number of Premier League stars such as defender Kenneth Omeruo and forwards Odion Ighalo, Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho. The weak link for Nigeria could be at the back, so despite their exciting forward line, keeping teams out could be a problem. That being said, at 18/1 with Paddy Power, Nigeria is a good bet to win the Gold medal at the 2016 Olympic Games.
With both Germany and Mexico in Group C along with South Korea and Fiji, they both have a very good chance to progress to the quarterfinals. From there, they cannot meet again until the final and with two of the strongest looking squads in the tournament, don’t be surprised if the Group C teams meet up again with it all riding on the line at Maracanã.