Four players you need to watch in the knockout stages at Tokyo 2020

Tokyo 2020 match between New Zealand and South Korea
Tokyo Olympics: Football Local elementary school students watch a Tokyo Olympic men s football Group B match between New Zealand and South Korea at Kashima Stadium in Ibaraki Prefecture, eastern Japan, on July 22, 2021. PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxHUNxONLY A14AA0000755017P

Men’s Olympic football can be a confusing affair. Clubs aren’t contractually forced to release players, only players 24 years of age and under are allowed to participate (with three exceptions per squad) and some major footballing nations don’t even bother to send teams. 

What then you ask is the point? Well, for avid football fans around the globe after a juggernaut of a domestic season and a fantastic month of Euro 2020 and Copa America action, the Olympics offers a great chance to feast your eyes on the next generation of up and comers.

With teams like France, Germany and Argentina already out it leaves room for the likes of Brazil and Spain and the host nation Japan to push for gold. All have sent strong squads giving their youth the chance to step up and shine. 

Now the group stage of the Mens’ Football at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has come and gone, a number of betting sites in the UK and further afield are starting to offer serious and competitive odds on group qualifiers, top goalscorers and the eventual winners. 

Holding on to gold?

Brazil’s Seleção made their nation proud by winning on the hallowed home turf of the Maracanã at Rio 2016. Now the reigning champions are joint-favourites with Spain to claim the gold again. 

Unsurprisingly the Brazilians have a wealth of talent at their fingertips with the likes of Hertha Berlin forward Matheus Cunha, Ajax striker Antony and Bayer Leverkusen ace Paulinho all packing into their potential attacking line. 

However, it’s Real Madrid’s Reinier who’s got many pundits and fans of the Brazilian domestic game excited. A product of Flamengo’s prestigious youth academy, Reinier was snapped up by Real Madrid and has since managed a few minutes for Borussia Dortmund on loan in the Bundesliga. 

An exciting attacking midfielder, Reinier sits just behind the forward line in a traditional ten role. Already earmarked for greatness he could be the one to keep Brazil ticking up top. 

Spain’s stars looking to shine

With arguably the strongest squad at this year’s Olympics, Spain have taken this tournament seriously since Guardiola, Luis Enrique, et al. won gold on home soil at Barcelona 1992. A total of six players from Luis Enrique’s Euro 2020 have packed their bags for Tokyo this summer.

Pau Torres, Dani Olmo, Mikel Oryarzabal, Dani Ceballos and Marco Asensio all feature for Spain, combining talent, experience and youth throughout the ranks. 

However, it’s Barcelona’s Pedri who’s being watched with particular interest. Comparisons with Barcelona legends, Xavi, Iniesta and even Lionel Messi should be taken with a pinch of salt but owe to the promise with which he is already showing. 

The Tenerife-born midfielder can dribble through the lines, work along the flanks and control play from the centre. If he starts he will be Spain’s engine room and at just 18 years of age, could be the next generational talent to emerge for his national team and club side alike. 

Africa’s erstwhile hopefuls

Manchester United have released their Ivory Coast duo of Eric Bailly and Amad Diallo without much fuss this summer. Central defender Bailly makes up one of the three-men veterans to go to Japan this summer and is already showing his worth providing solidity at the back.

All eyes will be on Amad Diallo however. Still relatively unknown in his home country owing to his formative years growing up in Italy, the quick witted winger will be hoping to use his prestigious talents to propel his team into a medal position this summer. 

Preferring to go by the name Amad, the forward thinking Ivorian rose through the ranks of the famed Atalanta youth system onto United manager Solskjær’s radar and sealed a move to England last summer.

Currently limited to making cameo appearances at United, Amad has already netted for the Red Devils and will command more minutes for his national side. Expect him to continue his rapid advances on the right wing with alarming regularity.

Host nation hoping to challenge

Drawn into a difficult group alongside France and Mexico, Japan are still being touted as one of the top three favourites to claim gold this summer and you can see why.

With half of their squad still plying their trade at home in the J-League, many of these Japanese up and comers will draw a blank with many football fans. 

One name to look out for though is Real Madrid’s Takefusa Kubo. Kubo earned a high profile move to the Spanish capital a couple of years ago from his native Japan and has been one earmarked for the future. 

At 20 years of age, the forward thinking Kubo has received mixed reviews on loan at Mallorca, Villareal, and Getafe respectively, but is still learning to ply his trade. 

Kubo can operate across the front three but is mainly deployed as a winger. It’s certainly his time to shine on home turf. 

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