Going For Gold: The Men’s Olympic Group Stages Are Complete

The Olympics have started, and to be honest, this isn’t a tournament that most soccer fans favor.

For a starter, the men’s eligibility rules prevent some of the best players from playing. Only four players above the age of 24 can be selected for the national teams. They don’t even have to be the best four players: because the tournament isn’t an official FIFA tournament, clubs aren’t required to give players to the national teams. Liverpool, for instance, refused to let Mohamed Salah play for Egypt at the Olympics.

The teams also aren’t necessarily the best: they qualify based on youth tournaments from each continent. This explains why Romania and Honduras qualified, whilst England, France, and the United States are among the teams that did not.

The tournament has also long been overshadowed, as both the men’s and women’s teams choose to focus on the World Cup instead. The World Cup brings far more cash in for the players and federations, and also has a more prestigious reputation.

Regardless, the Olympics do have their moments of magic for every sport. But what have those been at this year’s Olympics soccer teams?

Men’s Group A

The Olympic hosts, Japan won all three matches to top Group A. Conceding only once, Japan show tremendous potential to not only win this tournament, but compete at others in the future. Real Madrid prospect Takefusa Kubo starred for Japan, scoring three goals with one in each game.

Mexico advanced as the second placed team, despite having one of the worst disciplinary records at the tournament. With two red cards in their final two matches, Mexico will have to work on limiting the fouls. Still, Mexico impressed, winning twice (including a 4-1 victory over France).

This was not France‘s strongest tournament (although not much worse than the Euros). Viewed as possible favorites for the tournament, France lost the first match they played 4-1 against Mexico. They looked to improve with a narrow 4-3 win over South Africa, albeit thanks to a missed penalty from future star Luther Singh. Needing a result in the final game against Japan, France got blown out of the water in a 4-0 loss.

South Africa finished last in Group A with zero points, but the future looks bright. Both of the first losses (to Japan and France) were by one goal and easily could have gone the other way.

Men’s Group B

The Asian teams continue to impress, with South Korea winning Group B. Despite missing star player Son Heung-min, South Korea has a talented squad. Valencia’s 20-year old midfielder Kang-in Lee is one of them, scoring three times. Scoring ten goals and only conceding once, South Korea could also be tournament contenders.

New Zealand finished second and were the only team to beat South Korea but the results were misleading. Outshot 14 to five, New Zealand scored with their only shot on target. New Zealand then lost to Honduras, but a 0-0 draw to Romania saw the Ferns through on goal differential.

The unfortunate team that exited on goal differential was Romania, who finished with a difference of -3 compared to New Zealand’s zero. After a 1-0 victory over Honduras, Romania just needed to pick up a few points from their next games. Unfortunately, Romania lost 4-0 to South Korea and then struggled to a 0-0 draw against New Zealand to exit the tournament early.

Honduras needed just a draw against South Korea to advance to the Quarterfinals, but the result could not have been worse. They exited thanks to a 6-0 loss in a sloppy performance that included a red card, three penalty kicks, and an incredible 23 shots allowed against them.

Men’s Group C

Spain have picked up right where they left off at Euro 2020: doing well but scoring very few goals. Two goals in three games was enough for Spain to finish on top of Group C with five points, but obviously the offense needs to start scoring more.

I have said on many occasions not to count Egypt out, and they showed that they have some of the top talents in Africa by finishing second in Group C. Just like Spain, Egypt scored only twice, but also conceded only one time. A final day 2-0 win over Australia combined with Argentina’s tie with Spain means that Egypt advance to the knockouts.

As the fourth most valuable squad at the Olympics, Argentina had high hopes but the dreams of a third ever Olympic gold were squashed after an opening day loss to Australia. A 1-0 victory over Egypt restored some faith but the draw against Spain eliminated the Argentines.

On the final day of the group stages, Australia looked to be in the best position after beating Argentina in the first match. All they needed to do was tie last-placed Egypt to advance, but Australia conceded twice and were eliminated.

Men’s Group D

Brazil joined Spain and Japan as the only group winners to finish the group stages undefeated, winning twice and tying once to finish with seven points. Everton forward Richarlison led the way, scoring five times in three games. He is currently the top scorer at the Olympics.

However, the Ivory Coast are the only group runner-ups to finish undefeated. A narrow victory over Saudi Arabia combined with draws against Brazil and Germany has helped an exciting young Ivory Coast side finish second.

Defending finalists Germany will be disappointed with a third-place finish, but it is ultimately a deserved result. The Germans rightfully lost to Brazil, struggled to a narrow win over Saudi Arabia, and then were held to a draw against the Ivory Coast. Some players did impress, with Leverkusen’s Nadiem Amiri and Eintracht Frankfurt’s Ragnar Ache both scoring twice.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, Saudi Arabia finished last in the group. With no points or wins and eight goals conceded, Saudi Arabia will need to rethink their strategy for the future. Not a single player on the squad plays outside of their home country.

Now the tournament goes into the Quarterfinals, with some exciting matches coming up. South Korea will face Mexico, underdogs Egypt are up against Brazil, hosts Japan face New Zealand, and Spain play the Ivory Coast. Who are you rooting for? Let me know in the comments!

I’ll make a review of the women’s group stage tomorrow!

Image Courtesy of Miyuki Meinaka, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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