Tokyo Olympics: Football

  • 01/01/2021

Olympic football actually has a longer history than the FIFA World Cup, which has become the pinnacle international event for the world’s most popular sport.

The roundball game has been a regular feature of the Olympics since Paris 1900, predating the World Cup by 30 years, with women added at Atlanta 1996.

Until Los Angeles 1984, participation was limited to amateur players, but these days, men’s rosters carry an age limit of 23, with three over-age players allowed.

Women’s rosters have no age restrictions, opening competition to the world’s best players.  Reigning World Cup champions USA have dominated at the Olympics, winning four gold medals, but were stunned by Sweden in a quarter-final penalty shootout at Rio 2016, where Germany eventually captured the spoils.

The men’s title has been far more evenly contested, with 19 different nations enjoying success. Great Britain won three times in the early 20th century and Hungary matched that achievement through the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Somewhat surprisingly, Brazil won just their first title at Rio 2016, with Nigeria and Honduras picking up the other medals.

As Oceania champions, New Zealand will contest men’s and women’s competition at Tokyo, and while the Football Ferns are higher ranked (22nd), they have drawn the ‘pool of death’ with USA, Sweden and Australia.

NZ Team 

OlyWhites: Joe Bell, Michael Boxall*, Liberato Cacace, Joe Champness, Callan Elliot, Dane Ingham, Elijah Just, Clayton Lewis, Callum McCowatt, Nando Pijnaker, Winston Reid*, Jamie Searle, Marko Stamenic, George Stanger, Gianni Stensness, Ben Waine, Chris Wood*, Michael Woud

Football Ferns: CJ Bott, Katie Bowen, Claudia Bunge, Olivia Chance, Daisy Cleverley, Abby Erceg, Anna Green, Betsy Hassett, Anna Leat, Annalie Longo, Meikayla Moore, Erin Nayler, Gabi Rennie, Ria Percival, Ali Riley, Emma Rolston, Paige Satchell, Hannah Wilkinson

Five to watch

Carli Lloyd (United States)

One of the all-time greats of the women's game, Lloyd will be 39 when the tournament begins and a late-career revival of form has given her the chance of winning a third gold medal, after success in 2008 and 2012.

The forward scored one of the most memorable goals in women's soccer history, with a spectacular effort from the halfway line, as part of a hat-trick inside the opening 16 minutes of the 2015 World Cup final win over Japan.

Lloyd spent most of the successful 2019 World Cup campaign on the bench, but she has come back from a 10-month layoff after knee surgery and looks ready for Tokyo.

Mohamed Salah (Egypt)

Not surprisingly, Egypt are desperate to include the finest player to emerge from the Arab world as one of the three over-age players in their squad for Tokyo.

A Champions League and Premier League winner with Liverpool, the 29-year-old's participation is not yet secured, with talks continuing with his club.

If he does get the all-clear, Group C opponents Spain, Argentina and Australia must contend with his deft touch, clever movement and, above all, his eye for goal.

Mo Salah in action for Liverpool
Mo Salah in action for Liverpool. Photo credit: Getty

Mana Iwabuchi (Japan)

A World Cup winner with Japan in 2011, the 28-year-old former Bayern Munich forward recently joined Arsenal, but her focus will first be on her role with the 'Nadeshiko'.

Iwabuchi has scored 34 goals in 76 appearances for Japan and if the host nation are to enjoy medal success, they will need their experienced striker to be on top form.

Lukas Nmecha (Germany)

The 22-year-old forward won the Golden Boot and scored the winner in the final of this year's UEFA U21 tournament, and is key to German hopes at the Games.

The Hamburg-born striker grew up in England and has been part of Manchester City's academy system, but spent last season on loan at Belgian club Anderlecht.

Nmecha, who can operate centrally or wide, represented England at age-group level, until switching to Germany in March 2019. He made his debut against England.

Gerson (Brazil)

When Flamengo won the 2019 Copa Libertadores, and back-to-back Brazilian league titles in 2019 and 2020, the quick-thinking Gerson was the heart of a midfield packed with characters.

The quiet 24-year-old was perhaps the most underrated player at the Rio de Janeiro club, but his input was crucial in helping them to their greatest spell, since Zico and Junior ruled the roost.

No relation to the 1970 World Cup legend, Gerson had returned to Flamengo, after a disappointing spell in Italy with Roma and Fiorentina. He quickly found his feet again and his impressive displays over two highly successful years won him another chance to prove himself in Europe.

He left Flamengo in June to sign for French club Olympique Marseille.