In the build-up to the Rio Olympics, we’ll be previewing the favorites and making our picks for some of the games’ biggest events. Today, I start with the host country’s national sport: (men’s) soccer!
The tournament will run from August 3 (yup, two days before the opening ceremony) to August 20 in seven venues in Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Salvador, São Paulo, and Manaus. The final will be played at the historic Maracaná stadium in Rio.
The field is comprised of just 16 teams and a lot of world soccer powers didn’t make the cut (see Italy, England, Netherlands). The makeup of the teams will be different than what you see at a World Cup or other major international tournaments. Men’s teams are (mostly) restricted to under-23 players; each side can bring just three overagers.
Which teams does that paradigm favor? Let’s get to the odds to take home the gold and find some value in the field.
2016 Olympic Men’s Soccer Odds
Over the last few years, the notion of Brazil as a dominant soccer power has become more myth than reality. However, they’re playing at home – which helped them reach the 2014 World Cup final – and will have Barcelona striker Neymar on the team. Neymar will likely be the best player on the pitch in every game. Couple that with homefield advantage and Brazil are a worthy favorite.
Surprisingly, they’ll be looking for their first-ever Olympic soccer gold. Four years ago in London, they lost to Mexico in the final.
Unlike Brazil, Germany is on top of the soccer world right now. They won the 2014 World Cup (also in Brazil) and head into Euro 2016 as the favorites. But, with the Euro and the Olympics so close together, they won’t be taking their top players to Brazil. They have the depth to still field a very strong team, but not the dominant force we’ve grown accustomed to in the past 24 months.
The Argentines won gold in Athens in 2004 and again in Beijing in 2008. They have arguably the best national youth program on the planet and are always fighting for the Under-20 world championship. The Olympics’ U-23 restrictions play right into their hands. We don’t know which overagers they’ll bring to the tournament, but you can bet they’ll provide a nice boost to an already talented squad.
Portugal are another country that will benefit from the age restrictions. They currently have a very strong U-23 team. Portugal reached the UEFA U-21 final last year, which earned them their Olympic berth. They lost to Sweden on penalties in the final, but not before crushing Germany 5-0 in the semis. Like most teams, we don’t know which overage players they’ll bring; but it won’t be Cristiano Ronaldo.
The defending Olympic champions didn’t have the toughest road to the Olympics, beating up on the likes of Costa Rica, Haiti, Canada, and Honduras. But, as always, El Tri will be fun to watch. Several of the country’s top players that will be joining the national team after the Copa America is over.
South Korea: 25/1
South Africa: 40/1
It’s about time Brazil ended their gold medal drought in soccer. Having Neymar, one of the best strikers in the world, on the squad and playing at home should be enough to get it done. Even at short 6/5 odds, I’ll put my money on the hosts.
(Photo credit: Nizam Uddin (Flickr) CC BY 2.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)