Tokyo Olympics Men's Football: The 16 managers gunning for gold
We’ve been blessed with some sizzling sporting action over the last few weeks; from Euro 2020 and the Tour de France, to The Open and the British Grand Prix.
Attention now turns to the 32nd edition of the modern Olympics, delayed by a year because of the pandemic, which gets underway in Japan this week.
Skateboarding, sport climbing, BMX freestyle, karate, and surfing are new sports that feature in the jam-packed schedule, whereas the race for gold in the men’s football is a hotly anticipated affair.
There’s no Great Britain team unfortunately - there is on the women’s side though - and there's no Neymar or Mo Salah either due to club restrictions, however the likes of Spain, Brazil, France, and Germany all feature, and their respective young guns have an ideal opportunity to weave their magic in Japan.
Below we take a look at the 16 competing nations and the men orchestrating affairs from the touchline...
Japan: Hajime Moriyasu
The manager bidding to elevate the hosts into dreamland is Hajime Moriyasu, who not only takes charge of the Olympic team but is boss of the senior team too. The former Man Utd trialist led the U23s to the final of the Asian Games, and the seniors to the AFC Asian Cup Final, and will now look to claim the country’s first medal in men’s Olympic football since 1968 (bronze).
There’s no Takumi Minamino but keep an eye on Real Madrid’s Takefusa Kubo, Takehiro Tomiyasu who has been linked with Spurs, while Southampton fans will be pleased to see former player Maya Yoshida in the mix.
Odds: 11/1, Paddy Power
Mexico: Jaime Lozano
Mexico struck gold nine years ago in London, however they are 40/1 outsiders to repeat that feat in Japan under Jaime Lozano. The former Querétaro manager has been in charge of his country’s U23 side since late 2018, and is currently unbeaten in 10 games. Watch out for Real Betis winger Diego Lainez.
Odds: 40/1, William Hill
South Africa: David Notoane
Priced at a stonking 250/1, there aren’t many expecting South Africa to ruffle features in Japan. Covid and cancelled friendlies have ruptured the plans of head coach David Notoane, who will be hoping to flip the script and cause an upset or two as he bids to secure the country what would be only their second ever win at the Olympics. Unfortunately Brighton’s Percy Tau will not be present.
Odds: 250/1, Bet365
France: Sylvain Ripoll
Back in the men’s tournament for the first time since 1996, the 1984 victors find themselves in the mix for a medal. The U21 side have yet to reach their potential under Sylvain Ripoll - they reached the semi-finals of Euro 2019 and the quarter-finals earlier this year - and due to restrictions he doesn’t have the squad he perhaps might have, while there’s no Kylian Mbappé.
However, Florian Thauvin, Andre-Pierre Gignac, and Timothee Pembele are all in the travelling party, and given France’s impressive roster of young talent in recent years there will be stars of the future looking to sparkle.
Odds: 6/1, 888 Sport
South Korea: Kim Hak-bum
Coaching since 1992, the 61-year-old former banker has been in charge of South Korea U23s since 2018. Kim Hak-bum previously won gold at the 2018 Asian Games and last year triumphed at the 2020 AFC U23 Championship.
Son Heung-min will not feature for South Korea, who won bronze in London, but many players will be spurred on by the fact that a medal of any colour means military exemption.
Odds: 20/1, Betfred
New Zealand: Danny Hay
Danny Hay oversees a side skippered by West Ham’s Winston Reid, and led in attack by Burnley’s Chris Wood, who will be hoping to register the men’s side their first ever win at the Olympics. Hay is a former Leeds player who back in 1999 became the first Kiwi to be offered a Premier League contract, while he came on as a substitute against Barcelona in the Champions League.
Odds: 150/1, William Hill
Honduras: Miguel Falero
Surprise semi-finalists in Rio 2016, Honduras just missed out on a bronze after losing 3-2 to Nigeria. A repeat run to the last-four is unlikely, but recent draws against Germany and Mexico will give Miguel Falero’s 250/1 shots confidence, while they prevented the US team from qualifying too.
Odds: 250/1, Betfred
Romania: Mirel Rădoi
Also the senior team manager, Mirel Rădoi previously represented his country at Euro 2008. As manager of the U21s he reached the semi-finals of the 2019 Euros - topping a group that contained France and England - while this will be the first time that the country’s U23s men’s team will play in the Olympics since Tokyo 1964 (where they came fifth)!
Odds: 66/1, Paddy Power
Argentina: Fernando Batista
Fernando Batista will look to feed off the success of Argentina’s senior squad who have just won the 2021 Copa America. The U23s side famously won the Olympics in 2004 and 2008; the latter - which featured Lionel Messi - just so happened to be managed by Fernando’s brother Sergio!
The current crop won the Lima 2019 Pan American Games, then pipped Brazil to glory at the U23 Pre-Olympic Tournament where they won six of their seven games.
Odds: 10/1, Bet Victor
Egypt: Shawky Gharieb
Unbeaten in 13 matches, Egypt even triumphed over Brazil back in November. Shawky Gharieb has experience of winning a medal, having done so with the U20s Pharaohs side back in the 2001 FIFA World Youth Championship (bronze) and he won the 2019 Africa U-23 Cup of Nations, with many members of the latter success involved again this summer.
As a player Gharieb helped win his country the African Cup of Nations in 1986, and played in the 1984 LA Olympics. At 100/1 Egypt are a juicy three-figure long shot, however they won’t have legend Mo Farah in their ranks.
Odds: 100/1, Bet Victor
Australia: Graham Arnold
After a 13 year break Australia’s men’s side are back in the Olympics. They’ve not been in great form but will benefit from the immense experience of Socceroos senior boss Graham Arnold, who led the U23s (Olyroos) in their last Olympic showing in 2008, while he has won multiple titles in his homeland at club level.
Stoke fans will no doubt keep a close eye on 6ft 6in defender Harry Souttar, who previously played for Scotland’s youth teams. At senior level the defender remarkably has six goals in five games for Australia.
Odds: 250/1, William Hill
Spain: Luis de la Fuente
Spain got stronger and stronger as Euro 2020 reached the latter stages, and in the end were unfortunate to lose out on penalties to eventual champions Italy.
Six members of that squad feature in Luis de la Fuent’s Olympic roster: Eric Garcia, Dani Olmo, Unai Simon, Mikel Oyarzabal, Pau Torres, and Young Player of the Euros Pedri; an exceptional young talent. Dani Ceballos and Marco Asensio have also been included in a star-studded squad who have been installed as the 23/10 frontrunners for gold.
Odds: 23/10 favourites, Paddy Power
Brazil: Andre Jardine
Before Neymar coolly slotted in the deciding spot-kick on home soil five years ago to deliver the goods, Brazil had surprisingly never won the men’s tournament. They head to Japan looking to make it back-to-back successes and with the likes of Dani Alves, Richarlison, Gabriel Martinelli, and Douglas Luiz in their ranks they could well be the value bet at 11/4.
Boss Andre Jardine, who studied engineering, won’t be able to call on Neymar though.
Odds: 3/1, Betfred
Germany: Stefan Kuntz
Germany will want revenge for that heartbreaking shoot-out loss to Brazil five years ago. Olympics manager Stefan Kuntz, a former police officer who won Euro 1996 as a player, knows the players extremely well having managed the U21 side since 2016; which has produced two Euro’s successes.
Kuntz was linked with the senior job but remains at the helm and should be confident of leading his country to the latter stages. At 10/1 they are a fantastic price.
Odds: 10/1, 888 Sport
Ivory Coast: Soualiho Haidara
Les Petit Éléphants are led by Soualiho Haidara whose squad contains plenty of European-based talent, including AC Milan’s Franck Kessie and Man Utd youngster Amad Diallo, while Eric Bailly’s experience and leadership will be pivotal. “It’ll be their pre-season but they’ve got to come back with a medal,” Red Devils boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said last week.
The 100/1 outsiders have been placed in a tough group with both 2016 finalists, but have the potential to cause a stir.
Odds: 100/1, Bet Victor
Saudi Arabia: Saad Ali Al-Shehri
Runners-up in last year’s AFC U23 Asia Cup, Saad Ali Al-Shehri oversees the team at their first Olympics since 1996. Saudi Arabia will have gained much confidence from their Asia Cup journey and head to Japan with a record of just two defeats in 21 games.
You may remember Salman Al-Faraj, now 31, who scored in the victory over Egypt at the 2018 World Cup; the country’s first win at the tournament since 1994.
Odds: 250/1, William Hill
PREDICTION: Stefan Kuntz’s Germany catch the eye at 10/1 (Betway) to go one better this time around.