The Olympic Games are taking place a year later than planned as a result of the coronavirus pandemic that shut the world down in 2020.
But the games in Tokyo are going ahead in the summer of 2021, albeit without international fans able to attend the various events. Football has become an increasingly prominent Olympic sport in recent years and this summer’s Games in Japan will only further that.
Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know about football at the 2020 Olympics…
Delayed from last summer, the Olympic opening ceremony is scheduled for 23 July. However, as is usually the case, the football will already be underway by then because of the number of games that must be squeezed into a relatively short space of time.
The first ball will be kicked two days before the opening ceremony when the women’s tournament begins on 21 July. The men’s competition will follow with the opening matches a day later, still before the 2020 Olympic Games as a whole are officially open.
The women’s tournament will end with the gold medal match will be on 6 July and the men’s on 7 July. The Olympic closing ceremony then takes place the next day on 8 July.
The Olympics are always hosted by a single city, which is where the majority of events take place, although football is among the few exceptions because of the venue requirements.
So while athletics, swimming, cycling and most other sports will be held at venues in and around the area of the Tokyo metropolis, the football tournament will take place in seven venues all over Japan.
In addition to Tokyo, games will be played in nearby Yokohama and Saitama, as well as Kashima, Sendai, Rifu and Sapporo. Four of the stadiums in use hosted games at the 2002 World Cup, including the Sapporo Dome were England beat Argentina in 2002.
Here is the full list of stadiums to be used at the Olympic games for football:
Tokyo National Stadium (Tokyo) – 60,000
Tokyo Stadium (Chofu, Tokyo Metropolis) – 48,000
Saitama Stadium (Saitama) – 62,000
International Stadium (Yokohama) – 70,000
Ibaraki Kashima Stadium (Kashima) – 42,000
Miyagi Stadium (Rifu) – 48,000
Sapporo Dome (Sapporo) – 42,000
In the men’s football tournament, 16 teams are split into four round-robin groups of four, with the top two from each qualifying for the quarter-finals. The winners of each semi-final will contest the gold medal match and be awarded either a gold or silver medal. Meanwhile, the losers of each semi-final go into the bronze medal match to compete for the third medal.
The men’s tournament is age-restricted to Under-23 players, but each country is permitted to include three over-age players in their squad. Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah is wanted as one of those by Egypt, while Sergio Ramos has hinted that he could compete for gold this summer. Neymar was previously an over-age player for Brazil in 2016.
The women’s tournament features 12 teams in three round-robin groups of four. The top two in each group, as well as the two best third-place teams, advance to the quarter-finals, with the format then following the same path as the men’s competition.
Unlike the men, there is no age restriction for women. That means competing nations are free to name their very best players, making it a prestigious global tournament at the highest level.
As well as the packed schedule – teams reaching the medal matches will play six games in a maximum of 17 days – squads are smaller than a typical international tournament. Countries can only select 18 players, two of which must be goalkeepers. However, players who suffer a serious injury can still be replaced during the tournament from a list of designated reserves.
Men’s (16 nations)
Japan, France, Germany, Romania, Spain, New Zealand, Egypt, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Australia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Honduras
In Europe, Africa and Asia, qualification for the Olympics is decided by the most recent Under-21 or Under-23 continental championship – for example, the four semi-finalists from the 2019 Under-21 European Championship has provided Europe’s qualifiers.
In Oceania, North America and South America, special qualifying mini-tournaments are held.
There are no first time qualifiers among the men’s teams.
Women’s (12 nations)
Japan, Brazil, New Zealand, Great Britain, Netherlands, Sweden, USA, Canada, Zambia, Australia, South Korea/China, Cameroon/Chile
In the women’s tournament, European qualifiers are determined by Europe’s top three finishers at the last World Cup. The OFC Nations Cup and Copa America champions represent Oceania and South America respectively, while Olympic qualifying tournaments for North America, Africa and Asia.
The final qualifying ties that will decide whether China or South Korea get the final Asian berth and the continental playoff between Cameroon and Chile will take place between 8-13 April.
Netherlands and Zambia have never qualified for an Olympic tournament before now.
The men’s competition will be fierce, with Spain, France and Germany all expected to have strong squads. Brazil are the reigning champions from 2016, while Argentina are the only country in the age-restricted era (since 1992) to have won two gold medals – 2004 and 2008.
Mexico won gold in 2012, while Japan will have home advantage – even more so with no foreign crowds, and South Korea have a reasonable record at recent Olympics.
On the women’s side, the United States always start as strong favourites. They have dominated the Olympics since football was introduced for female players in 1996, with a bad-tempered quarter-final exit to Sweden in 2016 coming as a complete shock. That is the only time they have failed to get a medal of any colour, while they have previously won four of all six tournaments to date.
Japan, Brazil, Sweden and Canada have all won medals at one of the last three tournaments and would all back themselves to do so again. First timers Netherlands have a strong pedigree as reigning European champions and 2019 World Cup finalists, while Great Britain will also be much more of a medal threat than their only previous appearance in 2012.
But everyone will be playing catchup on the United States.