With the Olympics just days away and Brazil being the adopted home of football, we thought it only right that we give a breakdown on who will be attending this year and whom we believe will make it through the group stages.
With many of the firm favourites on the international state missing, the competition is having a mixed reception.
The Summer Games will see three teams from Africa, three teams from Asia, four teams from Europe, two teams from North, Central America and the Caribbean, one team from Oceania and three from South America, including this year’s host Brazil.
Africa: Nigeria U23 and Algeria U23 both booked their spots at the summer Olympiad at Decembers U23 Africa Cup of Nations. Nigeria eventually won the competition, beating runners-up Algeria 2-1 in the final with South Africa winning the 3rd playoff spot in penalties against hosts Senegal, after a goalless face off.
Asia: Japan U23 gained their place by winning AFC-U23, coming back from 2-0 against runners-up Korea Republic U23, with Takuma Asano (Now at Arsenal FC after his move from Sanfrecce Hiroshima) scoring first on the 66th-minute mark and the eventual winner in the 81st minute to help Japan lift the Cup.
The unfortunate runners up also gained qualification for their second place finish, with the hosts Qatar being beaten to the third spot by a very consistent Iraq U23 with the extra time clincher.
Europe: Maybe the hardest group to gain qualification into and the one with the most qualifiers; the European group sees four teams going through to the summer games.
Sweden were the winners of the UEFA European U21 Championships, in the Czech Republic, with Portugal as runners-up, maybe giving inspiration to their national team who won Euro 2016. Other teams to have qualified for the competition include Germany and Denmark, who between them have three silver medals and five bronzes.
NCC: Representing North, Central America and the Caribbean are Mexico, current title holders from London 2012, joined by Central American side Honduras. Both teams the winners and runners up of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers, respectively. Honduras tried to hold off the reigning Olympic champions, but in the end, lost 2-0 to the continuing CONCACAF championship holders.
Oceania: Fiji was the only qualifiers from the Oceania region after success at the Pacific Games Olympic qualifiers. Much like the Summer Games, the Pacific Games is a multi-sport event in which nations compete for medals. Fiji placed fourth in the men’s football, however, qualified for the Olympic Games after seeing off fierce competition from rivals in the qualifying tournament.
South America: As hosts of this year’s Summer Games, Brazil has an automatic qualification, which is a saving grace as they had failed to finish top of the South American U20 Championships, losing to Columbia in their final match and only able to finish fourth in the last stage of the competition.
Argentina sealed automatic qualification, winning the tournament for their 5th time as well as Colombia who placed second in the competition and successfully sought off the US in a two-leg playoff to guarantee their attendance.
Group A sees the hosts going up against Denmark, Iraq and South Africa. I cannot imagine they will have much trouble against Iraq, however, may be at odds against a physically strong South Africa and technical Denmark.
With only two going through I wouldn’t bet on Iraq moving on to the next stages, however, it will be a tougher call for second place qualification. My prediction sees Brazil and South Africa advancing.
Lots of pressure on the back of Captain Neymar to bring the youthful and talented team to gold and with teams like Manchester City and Manchester United breathing down the back of Gabriel Jesus for a signature, this could be his moment to show why.
Group B consists of Colombia, Japan, Nigeria and Sweden. With three championship teams in their group, South American runners-up Colombia look against odds.
Colombia does, however, look to have a well-balanced team and have had more experience than other teams. With this said I would back the European champions, Sweden and Colombia to advance. Ones to watch from this group would have to be midfielder Jefferson Lerma (Colombia) and striker Takuma Asano (Japan).
Group C includes current Olympic and CONCACAF Gold medalists Mexico and sees them up against Fiji, Germany and Korea Republic. A hard one for underdogs Fiji, who only made it this far due to qualification, placing 4th in their Pacific Games.
Germany should qualify easily with the likes of Sven and Lars Bender as well as Serge Gnabry in midfield and Matthias Ginter holding down the back line.
The holders should make it through the group brushing off Fiji, losing to Germany and finding some resistance in their final group match against Korea. With a move apparently already in motion for the Mexican striker Hirving Lozano, the completion of the tournament should see him announce his move to Manchester United.
Group D, the last group in all sees Algeria, Argentina, Honduras and Portugal in head-to-heads with each other. This group may be the toughest to call. Portugal is my runners up for the group with Argentina topping.
With fierce opposition coming from both Algeria and Honduras, it will be an interesting one to keep an eye on.
A follow up to come after the group stages conclude August 10th, with Iraq and Denmark the first two teams to kick off on August 4th.