2016 Rio Olympic Soccer Fan Guide
Authors: Louis Kang & Sean Bakhtiari
Setting the stage
An Olympic gold medal is the only soccer honor missing from Brazil’s illustrious history. They have contested in 12 of the 23 Men’s Olympic Soccer Tournaments, a record that only Italy and the U.S. can surpass, with 15 and 13 appearances respectively. Brazil have finished runner-up five times but never before have they held home field advantage (not that it proved useful in the 2014 World Cup). The hosts will kick off the 2016 Olympic soccer tournament in Rio on August 4th. Of all four Groups, A through D, Brazil has received a more favorable draw and is expected to advance easily to the knockout round. Nigeria and Colombia look most likely to make it out of Group B, along with Portugal and Argentina in Group D. Group C, however, is being called “The Group of Death” with reigning gold medalists Mexico, bronze medalists South Korea, and World Cup winners Germany
Olympic men’s rosters are restricted to under-23 players (born on or after January 1, 1993) with a maximum of three overage players allowed. Thanks to this summer’s UEFA European Championship and Copa America, there are few household names among the over-age players. But that is the hidden beauty of the Olympic Games -- it gives up-and –coming stars the chance to shine on the world stage. Neymar (24) was the main star at the 2012 Olympics in London when Brazil lost to Mexico in the final and again will be the biggest name in this year’s competition. He will be one of Brazil’s three overage players in hopes of winning his country gold for the very first time. Mexico is taking their title defense seriously by including two El-Tri mainstays, Club América’s Oribe Peralta (33) and Tigres defender Jorge Torres Nilo (28).
Mens Soccer at the Olympics - Quick facts
- In 1908, men’s soccer was introduced to the Olympic Games. There were a total of six teams and five countries (Britain, Denmark, Hungary, Bohemia and France) represented with the host nation, Britain, winning the gold medal.
- Up until 1992, professional footballers were not allowed to participate in the Olympic Games which explain why Pele never partook. The only restrictions today is that all players must be under the age of 23 (U-23) with the exception of three “over-age” players.
- Hungary and Great Britain are tied for the most Olympic soccer gold medals with three while three other nations have two gold medals (Argentina, Soviet Union, and Uruguay).
Breakout stars to keep an eye on
The Olympics, as a primarily U-23 competition, has always been a stage for young and upcoming talent -- Messi in 2008 and Ronaldinho in 2000 are two notable examples. This summer, Germany’s Max Meyer and Argentina’s Angel Correa may be the next two youngsters to burst onto the radars of the biggest European clubs.
1) Max Meyer (Germany)
Position: CAM/LW Team: Schalke 04 Age: 20 Height: 5’ 8”
A product of the Schalke 04 youth system, Max Meyer is fresh off his best season yet. Having become a full time member of the starting lineup, Meyer usually lines up right behind the striker at center-attacking mid or on the left wing. A real “two-footed” player, his attacking prowess is what makes him so dynamic. While he is quick, his incredible one-on-one dribbling ability (credited to playing futsal) is his defining characteristic. Combine that with good vision, and a decent shot, you get a player who racked up the most assists for Schalke in the 2015/16 Bundesliga season.
2) Angel Correa (Argentina)
Position: ST/LW/RW Team: Atletico Madrid Age: 21 Height: 5’ 8”
Correa has been compared to compatriot Sergio Aguero, due to his similar height and playing style. His pace and low center of gravity compliments his technique and first touch. The Atletico Madrid forward has the ability to stretch the defense by running in behind the back four or drop deeper to pick up the ball in the midfield and link up play. Despite his potential, Correa has come off the bench as a substitute more times this year than he’s started. His struggles to break into the starting lineup are understandable when you realize his competition at his position is Fernando Torres, Antoine Griezmann and Jackson Martinez. With limited minutes, Correa recorded 8 goals and 4 assists in all competitions this season. A little faith in Angel Correa by Argentine coach Julio Olarticoachea, will provide the striker with an opportunity to show the world what he’s capable of.
Can Nigeria make a statement?
Grouped with Sweden, Columbia and Japan, Nigeria will be one of the teams to keep an eye on this summer. While the international soccer stage hasn’t traditionally been dominated by African countries, we may very well be witnessing the beginnings of a powerhouse team of the future. Coached by Samson Siasia, the “dark horses” of the Olympics have slowly been making waves in the football world, most recently by winning the CAF U-23 Africa Cup of Nations in Senegal last year.
Nigeria's supporters will be anxious for their side to emulate the unforgettable success of the original Nigerian 'Dream Team'. It was 20 years ago this summer that the ‘Super Eagles’ stunned Argentina 3-2 in the 1996 final in front of almost 90,000 people near Atlanta to become the first African football nation to win Olympic gold.
Unfortunately though, Nigeria will be without several of their top young talentsdue to club commitments. Kelechi Iheanacho of Manchester City and Alex Iwobi of Arsenal will both miss out on the Olympics having not been released by their clubs. 29-year-old Chelsea midfielder Jon Obi Mikel, who has named one of Nigeria’s three overaged players, will captain his nation and be a calming influence both on and off the field. It is the first time that Mikel will make an appearance at the Olympic Games. Expectations will surely be high for the Super Eagles in Rio this summer.
Will Brazil finally win an Olympic gold medal?
Brazil will look to bounce back from a disastrous Copa America that led to the firing of Dunga as head coach. At the senior level, Brazil is soccer’s most decorated nation. It has won the World Cup a record five times. But it still doesn’t have the full set. France is the only country that has won a World Cup, Confederations Cup, senior continental championship, Olympic gold medal, Under-20 World Cup and Under-17 World Cup. To lead the Brazilians at the 2016 Olympics, Coach Rogerio Micale will be the man in charge. Micale was hired by the CBF thirteen months ago to work with the U-20 national team. As the host nation, there will be overwhelming support but even more pressure on the favorites to win it all. A comfortable group made up of South Africa, Denmark, and Iraq should allow Coach Micale time to polish and fine-tune his starting XI by the time the knockout stage comes around. The question though, is who will step up to the challenge and carry Brazil to glory? Neymar, golden boy for Brazil, will without a doubt carry the majority of pressure on his shoulders. Joining the Barcelona attacker will be Palmer goalkeeper, Fernando Prass (38) and Beijing Guoan midfielder, Renato Augusto (28). A bright generation of Brazilian youngsters emerging in Europe and South America will compliment these three overaged players - Felipe Anderson (23) of Lazio, Rafinha (23) of Barcelona, Gabriel (19) of Santos and Marquinhos (22) of PSG.
What about the woman’s competition?
There are several reasons to be excited about the women’s Olympic soccer competition this summer. Fans of U.S. Soccer have long been hopeful for success from their men’s team, but it is the women’s squad who has demonstrated dominance on the world stage. Having won the Women’s World Cup in 2015 and a gold medal at the last Olympics in 2012, the USWNT have established themselves as the best team on the planet. Moreover, the Olympics is one of the most prestigious soccer tournaments in women’s soccer, second only to the World Cup. And due to no age-limit, all squads will be at full strength. While some powerhouse teams like Japan and England will be missing out, the likes of Germany, Brazil, Canada and France will certainly have strong showings.
This summer’s Olympic Games will mark an interesting challenge for U.S. Woman’s head coach, Jill Ellis. Star forward Sydney Leroux will miss the tournament as she is expecting her first child while winger Megan Rapinoe and midfielder Carli Lloyd both returned from serious injuries to make the 18-player roster. The recent retirements of Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx, and Lauren Holiday will certainly open up spots for the future woman’s stars of America. Quality will be in abundance for the U.S. Women’s national team with Julie Johnston and Becky Sauerbrunn anchoring the center of defense, Tobin Heath and Morgan Brian in the midfield, and the dynamic Christen Press and/or Alex Morgan up top. The U.S. has won 4 of the 5 Olympic women’s soccer tournaments so anything but gold will be a disappointment for Ellis’ team this summer. However, it would be silly to count out the talented Brazil, France, Canada or Germany squads…
Women’s Football at the Olympics - Quick facts
- The first women's tournament was at the 1996 Atlanta Games. USA won the gold medal, and picked up silver in 2000 after an extra time defeat by Norway. The finals of the next two tournaments, in 2004 and 2008, also went to extra time, with USA defeating Brazil both times. In 2012 USA won their 4th the gold medal defeating Japan 2–1 in the final.
- Unlike the men’s competition, there is no age restriction for women’s and therefore, the Olympic games hold much prestige on the world stage.
- Looking at the history of the women’s competition, the USA have been more successful than any other country with 4 gold medals out of a possible 5.