Football for men at the Olympics has become increasingly prominent in recent years, with higher profile players such as Neymar, Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero wanting to join.
It is still an age-limited tournament, but being a part of the Olympic Games gives it a unique and special advantage that other competitions do not have.
Here’s a look at all you need to know about men’s soccer at this summer’s Olympics …
Argentina and South Korea have both won medals before / JUNG YEON-JE / Getty Images
France, Germany, Romania, Spain: Semifinalists at the European Championships under 21 years
New Zealand: OFC Olympic Qualifying Tournament
Egypt, Ivory Coast, South Africa: Top three at the Africa Cup of Nations under 23 years
Australia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea: Top three at the AFC Championship in 23 years
Argentina, Brazil: CONMEBOL pre-Olympic tournament
Honduras, Mexico: CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament
Dani Alves seems to be an age player for Brazil / Lionel Ng / Getty Images
Men’s soccer debuted as an Olympic sport in 1900 but was strictly a competition for non-professionals until the rules were changed in 1984 allowing professionals to be selected, albeit limited to those who had never played in the World Cup whether you were European or South American.
The World Cup clause was removed in 1992 when it became an age-restricted tournament for players under 23 years of age. The age rule, which allows the selection of three players who do not fit the age criteria, was first seen at the 1996 Olympics.
The age limit usually allows the choice of everyone born on January 1, 23 years before the Olympics are to take place. For example, exemption for exemption from age must have players for the 2020 Olympics been on January 1, 1997 or later.
Given the postponement of the original games due to the coronavirus pandemic, the IOC chose to leave the age limit unchanged to ensure that players over the age of 24 would not be unfairly excluded. Technically, this summer’s Olympic competition is actually an under-24 tournament.
Soccer at the Olympics follows a typical tournament format / SOPA Images / Getty Images
The 16 competing countries have been divided into three groups (AD) of four as follows:
Group A: Japan, South Africa, Mexico, France
Group B: New Zealand, South Korea, Honduras, Romania
Group C: Egypt, Spain, Argentina, Australia
Group D: Brazil, Germany, Ivory Coast, Saudi Arabia
Each team plays each other in the group once in a typical round robin format, where the two best in each group automatically qualify for the quarterfinals.
The two finalists will compete for the gold medal, where second place will go to silver, while the two losing semifinalists will enter the playoffs to see who takes home the bronze medal.
The first games in men’s football take place on July 22, a day before the opening ceremony officially declares the Olympics open.
The group game ends on July 28, with the knockout bracket starting three days later and continuing to the gold medal match on August 7.
July 22nd: Mexico vs France (A), Japan vs South Africa (A), New Zealand vs South Korea (B), Honduras vs Romania (B), Egypt vs Spain (C), Argentina vs Australia (C), Ivory Coast vs Saudi Arabia (D), Brazil vs Germany (D)
July 25: France vs South Africa (A), Japan vs Mexico (A), New Zealand vs Honduras (B), Romania vs South Korea (B), Egypt vs Argentina (C), Australia vs Spain (C), Brazil vs Ivory Coast (D), Saudi Arabia vs Germany (D)
July 28: France vs Japan (A), South Africa vs Mexico (A), Romania vs New Zealand (B), South Korea vs Honduras (B), Australia vs Egypt (C), Spain vs Argentina (C), Saudi Arabia vs Brazil (D), Germany vs Ivory Coast (D)
31 July: Quarterfinals
August 3: Semifinals
August 6: Bronze medal match
August 7: Gold medal
The gold medal match is played in Yokohama, which hosted the 2002 World Cup final / MARTIN BUREAU / Getty Images
Although the Olympics are always based in a single city, the football tournament is usually spread a little further across the host nation to gain access to stadiums.
This year is no exception, with games taking place in the cities of Sapporo, Rifu, Kashima, Saitama and Yokohama in addition to Tokyo itself.
The gold medal match will be played in nearby Yokohama at the arena that hosted the 2002 World Cup final, the Rugby World Cup final 2019 and many FIFA Club World Cup competitions.
Takefusa Kubo becomes a favorite at home / Etsuo Hara / Getty Images
Takefusa Kubo (Japan)
Poaching from FC Tokyo by Real Madrid 2019 Kubo last spent on loan with Villarreal and Getafe and returns home to represent a Japanese side that can do well at home.
Diego Lainez (Mexico)
Laine played 25 times in all competitions for Real Betis last season and is actually the only player in the Mexican squad who is not based at a domestic club.
Lyle Foster (South Africa)
South Africa’s Foster is still only 20 but has long been considered a top talent with great potential. He was developed by Monaco’s esteemed by the youth academy and now plays in Portugal.
Alexis Mac Allister (Argentina)
Brighton fans hope that Mac Allister will do well for Argentina this summer. He has played senior international games before but is a bright spark of this U23 group.
After 52 matches for Barcelona last season and playing every minute for Spain in the European Championship 2020, it remains to be seen how committed Pedri will be at the Olympics. But he could easily be the best player in the tournament.
Pedri played every minute for Spain at Euro 2020 / David Ramos / Getty Images
Matheus Cunha (Brazil)
Cunha is less well known than some of his Brazilian colleagues but has a very good record at this level. He has previously played for RB Leipzig and has impressed with Hertha since 2020.
Amad Diallo (Ivory Coast)
Manchester United’s teenage talent has the opportunity to put his mark on a side of the Ivory Coast that hopes to cause some outrage. He has the talent, now this is his platform.
Brazil could retain the title they won in 2016 / Eurasia Sport Images / Getty Images
Brazil won gold at home last time. But even if they do not have Neymar among their ranks this year, Selecao still have a strong group with a mix of domestic and European players, including Richarlison, Diego Carlos, Douglas Luiz, Malcom, Reinier and Gabriel Martinielli.
They are also led by a 38-year-old Dani Alves who is determined to add another title to his collection.
Spain will similarly be good at doing well after appointing a strong group, although fatigue can be a problem if they are dependent on the players who until recently competed in Euro 2020.
Argentina’s squad has not been as strong as before, but they will still pose a threat, as will Mexico. Ivory Coast should also not be underestimated, even though it is in a tough group.
In the UK, the entire Olympics is available on BBC platforms, whether it is channel broadcasts (BBC1, BBC2, BBC4), the red button, the BBC website or iPlayer.
In the United States, Olympic football is available for streaming via fuboTV.
For more from Jamie Spencer, follow him on Twitter and Facebook!