With the quarterfinals drawing to a close in the UEFA European Championships, Men’s Olympic Soccer in Rio will be the next major event that the world will look to watch. While Iceland has been a pleasant surprise, one has to wonder who will be the ‘Cinderella Story’ just one month from now when the Summer Olympic Games begin. With countries like France, England, Italy, and Spain out of the competition, the Olympic Gold Medal is really up for grabs, and any number of teams could find themselves standing atop the podium with their national anthem playing.
Men’s Olympic Soccer actually begins on August 4, one day before the opening ceremonies. The following is a breakdown of each team and the draws they can expect during pool play.
Brazil only manages to get into the Olympics thanks to their host team status. The Road to Rio took Brazil to the 2015 South American U-20 Championship where they did fairly well in pool play. However, the wheels fell off in the championship round, and the they found themselves on the outside looking in taking fourth place after getting knocked off by Argentina and Colombia, respectively.
FIFA was quick to point out that disappointment has been the name of the game for Brazilian Soccer as of late. The Brazil Men’s Olympic Soccer Team will hope to take the bad taste out of the mouth of their citizens after a surprising defeat in the 2014 World Cup.
Brazil begins competition on August 4 against South Africa. They follow this up with Iraq on August 7, and they end pool play against Denmark on August 10.
Argentina has to be considered one of the favorites in Men’s Olympic Soccer. They come in as the only team to enter the soccer tournament from South America with an automatic bid. By taking the 2015 South American U-20 Championships beating Uruguay in the final match, Argentina punched their ticket to Rio.
Playing out of Pool C, Argentina kicks off play with Portugal on August 4. They finish it up with Algeria August 7, and Honduras August 10.
Colombia squeaked into the Men’s Olympic Soccer Tournament by knocking off the United States in a two-leg playoff. Colombia surprised the United States in Texas by winning 2-1 after tieing 1-1 in Colombia. Colombia did draw Argentina in the U-20 Championships, so their is a possibility they could find themselves in the knockout round when it begins August 13.
Playing out of Pool B, Colombia faces Sweden, Japan, and finally Nigeria to close out that portion of the tournament. The Colombians would certainly love to walk away from South American rival Brazil’s home turf with gold.
Oceania’s lone qualifier for Men’s Olympic Soccer is Fiji. While the Fiji men will be odds on favorites in Rugby, the same is not true for their soccer team. They did have an astounding 38-0 victory over Micronesia in the qualifying tournament. However, they only managed draws against Vanuatu and Tahiti. They made it to the Olympics by knocking off Papua New Guinea in the semifinals and Vanuatu in the finals.
It will be a miracle if Fiji manages to make it out of Pool C. They open with Korea. Then, they face some brutal competition between Mexico and Germany.
As the case was with Colombia, Honduras also played their way to the Olympics by beating the United States. Despite being the underdog, Honduras knocked off the United States on their home turf in Salt Lake City assuring they would find their way to Rio. Though they fell to Mexico in the 2015 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship, the Honduras team set out to accomplish what they wanted, a trip to the Olympics.
It will not be easy with games against Algeria followed by Portugal and Argentina. With an upset here or there, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Honduras plays through to the quarterfinals.
Mexico enters the Summer Olympics as defending champions and quite possibly the team to beat. Mexico went through the 2015 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament undefeated. They beat Honduras in the finals to secure their spot in Rio.
Mexico has an important match to open up Olympic play with Germany August 4. They close the pool portion with Fiji and Korea. It is hard to imagine Mexico not reaching the qualifying round.
Denmark’s path to the Olympics is somewhat of a surprising one. Despite getting beat by Germany in the opening round of the 2015 UEFA U-21 European Championship, Denmark shocked the European community by winning their pool. They forged ahead to the elimination round but eventually came up short to Scandinavian counterparts Sweden in the semifinals.
If Denmark is going to match the success of the European Championships, they will need to best Iraq, South Africa, and host team Brazil. The final match against Brazil on August 10 could find the winner in the quarterfinals and the loser done.
When the UEFA U-21 European Championship opened up, many considered Germany one of the favorites. However, lackluster performances against Serbia and the Czech Republic almost cost them a trip to the Olympics. Despite a defeat to Portugal in semifinals, Germany just barely made it to Rio.
Germany looks to prove they deserve to be at Rio, and furthermore, they are hoping to play like the team many thought they were. The ‘Road to the Gold Medal’ begins with a tough match against Mexico. Their second match against defending Bronze Medalists South Korea will not be easy, and most likely, it will determine who makes it to the knockout round. They finish with Fiji on August 13.
A single penalty shot is all that stood between Portugal and the European Championships. Olympic Gold would go a long way to erasing the heartbreak that Sweden dealt them in the finals. Portugal continues to rack up wins in international competitions, and they most likely will make it through the round robin portion of Men’s Olympic Soccer.
If they do find themselves in the quarterfinals, they will have made it through competition from Argentina, Honduras, and Algeria. With the UEFA team one game away from the finals, the Olympic team is certainly hoping to at least match them.
Sweden quite possibly had the toughest road to get to Rio. Sweden entered the European Championships as heavy underdogs. Just to get to the playoff portion of the tournament they had to go through Italy, England, and Portugal. They met rival Denmark in the semifinals, and dispatched favorites Portugal again to win their first European Championship.
However, that tournament was a year ago, and no one will be looking past Sweden in the Olympics. For Sweden to win gold, they will need to again make a magic run through Colombia, Nigeria, and Japan.
It took a win against host country Qatar in the third place match for Iraq to make it to the Olympics. They did so in dramatic fashion equalizing with just four minutes remaining. They would score the winning goal in extra time.
Iraq has been through a lot to make it to this stage of international competition. For Iraq to make it any further, they will need a great deal of help. They open with Denmark, face Brazil next, and close with South Africa.
Japan turned heads in the AFC U-23 Championships. They walked through pool play, and easily made their way through the second stage. They squeaked by Iraq in the semifinals. In the finals, they beat 2012 Olympic Bronze Medalist Korea in the championship game. They finished the tournament undefeated.
Japan should have an opportunity to make it through to the knockout rounds in Rio. They will need to pick up wins against Nigeria and Colombia. This will pit them against European Champion Sweden on August 13 for a chance to win the pool.
Korea is no stranger to the Olympic podium. They took Bronze Medals in London, and they hope to be on the podium again in Rio. They looked in good form in the AFC U-23 Championships. They easily blew through the competition in opening play. The next round saw most of the same. They dispatched host Qatar in the semifinals only to meet ultimate defeat to Japan in the finals.
Korea has anything but an easy first round in Rio. They should win the opener against Fiji. However, Korea will be tested in the final two matches against Mexico and Germany.
Algeria has had an uphill battle to the Men’s Olympic Soccer competition. They needed a two game playoff against Sierra Leone just to even make it into the CAF U-23 Africa Cup of Nations. From there, they took Group B by beating Mali, Egypt, and Nigeria. They knocked off South Africa in the semifinals, but were beat in the finals by Group B runner-up Nigeria.
Algeria hopes to mimic what fellow African nation Cameroon did in 2000. That’s the last time the Olympic Champion was from Africa. To do so, they have to make it out of a stiff opening round. They find themselves with Honduras, Argentina, and Portugal.
In 2008, Nigeria fell just one goal shy of taking the Gold Medal at the Olympic Games in Beijing. They look to exact revenge on the field in 2016. Despite finishing runner-up in their group during the CAF U-23 Africa Cup of Nations, Nigeria rallied to win the tournament.
The draw isn’t great for Nigeria. The champions from Africa’s fate will be decided in the first two matches. They face the Asian Champion, Japan, and the European Champion, Sweden. They finish with Colombia, but by then, Nigeria will already likely know their fate.
South Africa just barely made it to the Olympics in Rio. In the CAF U-23 Africa Cup of Nations, they found themselves in a winner-take-all third place match against Senegal. After playing to a scoreless tie, South Africa prevailed on penalty kicks to advance to Rio.
It’s hard to fathom anyone thinking that South Africa make it out of pool play. Brazil, Denmark, and Iraq stand in their way. However, in the world of the Olympics, anything can happen.
When Men’s Olympic Soccer opens play August 4, it will be hard to pick a favorite. In fact, it will be easier to pick who won’t make it out of pool play then it will be to pick who will. The championship could come down to anyone of the quarterfinalists which should make for an exciting competition. Who do you feel has the best shot at the Men’s Olympic Soccer in Rio?
[Image via Hagan Hopkins/Getty Images]