Tokyo 2020: Olympic men's football players to watch

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Tokyo 2020: Olympic men's football players to watch
Olympics
The Olympics football kicks off on July 21

Euro 2020 and the Copa America may be over, but the summer of international tournament football is not done yet. The Tokyo Olympics is just around the corner and some well-known faces, as well as some stars of tomorrow, will be going for gold.

The Team GB women's squad will be going for glory in Tokyo, and, even without a British man's team going, there is plenty to look forward to in the men's competition.

What is the format and why is there no Team GB men's football side?

Two groups of four teams will compete for gold between 21 July and 7 August.

Typically, each team must select a squad of players under the age of 23 with three designated over-age players, but because the Olympics was delayed by a year due to Covid-19, that has been changed to under 24, meaning players must be born after 1 January 1997.

Teams qualified through each regional confederation's respective developmental tournament, for example the 2019 European Under-21 Championships, which has seen Spain, Romania, France and Germany reach Tokyo.

In 2012, when London was hosting, Team GB put forward a men's team for the first time. But subsequent attempts to re-form in 2016 were shelved after the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football associations didn't back the plans and they haven't been tried again. Because of England's failure to get out of the groups at the Under-21 Euros, Team GB wouldn't have qualified anyway.

However, Tokyo 2020 will be Great Britain's women's second appearance at the tournament.

Superstars including Neymar and Lionel Messi have competed in the past and won gold. Here are some of the teams and players to watch at this Games...

The reigning champions - Brazil

Gabriel Martinelli
Arsenal's Gabriel Martinelli will represent Brazil in Tokyo

Gold medallists from five years ago when they hosted the Games in Rio, Brazil will once again be red hot favourites to defend their crown. Notable members of this squad include Arsenal striker Gabriel Martinelli, Reinier, a midfielder on loan from Real Madrid at Borussia Dortmund, and perhaps their key player, Everton's Richarlison, who helped the senior side to the Copa America final earlier in the summer. Eleven of the 22 players selected currently ply their trade outside their homeland, including Aston Villa midfielder Douglas Luiz.

Having initially turned down requests for 24-year-old Richarlison to head to the Games, the Toffees relented and allowed him to go. But having played so much football since the end of last season, it is unlikely he'll return for Rafael Benitez's Premier League game against Southampton just a week after the Olympic men's football final.

Hertha Berlin striker Matheus Cunha is another talent worth watching, having scored seven goals in the struggling Bundesliga side last term. Sevilla defender Diego Carlos, 28, and Barcelona legend Dani Alves, now 38 and with Sao Paolo, join Athletico Paranaense goalkeeper Santos, 31, as the overaged contingent.

Can Euro 2020 heroes inspire Spain team?

Spain
Six Spain players from Euro 2020 including Unai Simon, Pedri and Dani Olmo have been selected

No fewer than six players from Luis Enrique's Euro 2020 squad have been chosen to represent La Roja again. That list includes 17-year-old Pedri, who was a breakout star at the tournament having impressed at Barcelona last season, Real Sociedad's Mikel Oyarzabal, Dani Olmo of RB Leipzig, Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Unai Simon, Eric Garcia, formerly of Manchester City and now Barcelona and Villarreal's Pau Torres.

Their three designated older players were not involved in Spain's journey to the Euros semi-finals: Mikel Merino, once of Newcastle United and now Real Sociedad, former Arsenal loanee Dani Ceballos, and Real Madrid winger Marco Asensio, all of whom will be 25 during the Games, are their choices.

Striker Rafa Mir could be something of a wildcard. Despite joining Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2018, he is yet to make a mark at Molineux, but he enjoyed an impressive season in La Liga despite getting relegated with Huesca, scoring 13 goals in 38 games.

Notable Premier League stars

Amad Diallo
Manchester United's Amad Diallo will play for Ivory Coast

There will be a number of players familiar to those who watch the English top flight, including Burnley striker Chris Wood, who will be looking to lead the line for New Zealand as one of their over-aged selections. The 29-year-old has scored 24 goals in 57 appearances for the All Whites since making his debut in 2009. West Ham defender Winston Reid, 33, who spent last season on loan at Brentford, is also in their squad.

Manchester United defender Eric Bailly, 27, will be there for Ivory Coast alongside clubmate Amad Diallo, the exciting teenage winger who joined the Red Devils from Atalanta last season.

Interestingly, Tottenham Hotspur star SonHeung-min has been left out of South Korea's squad despite the 28-year-old being given the green light by his club, because coach Hak-bum Kim says his fitness needs to be protected.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah has been left out of Egypt's squad, despite being named provisionally.

Others to watch out for

Takefusa Kubo
Takefusa Kubo is the hosts' big hope

There are a number of exciting prospects looking to make a name for themselves. Argentina's Esequiel Barco is a pacey, dynamic winger currently with Atlanta United in Major League Soccer. He'll be hoping to help La Albiceleste win gold for the first time since 2008.

Japan hold home advantage, which could be key, and Takefusa Kubo will be a big player for them. The Real Madrid playmaker is only 20 and hasn't played for Los Blancos yet but has begun to establish himself in Spain through loan spells at Real Mallorca, Villarreal and Getafe.

France's depth of youth is evident again, despite Rennes objecting to midfield sensation Eduardo Camavinga being included in their squad. Both Andre Pierre-Gignac, 35, and former Newcastle winger Florian Thauvin, 28, who now play for Tigres in Mexico, join the overage list. Maximilian Arnold, 27, and Max Kruse, 33, are the biggest names in Stefan Kuntz's Germany side.

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