With both football superstars out of their national Olympic squads, the second Group D on August 4, 2016 between Portugal and Argentina will lose some color. Rio Olympic qualifying rules for men’s football allow only three players born after January 01, 1993 and thus most national squads will have players under the age of 23. However, there is no age restriction for women. Although, the official Olympic opening ceremony will be held on August 5, football competitions begin two days earlier. Women’s tournament gets underway on August 3 with the inaugural match between Sweden and South Africa at the Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro while men’s first game will be on August 4 between Iraq and Denmark at Brasilia’s Mane Garrincha stadium. There will be seven other men’s matches on August 4 at four venues across Brazil. It has been known for some time that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will not be playing in the Rio Olympics but football fans are so used to these names from Portugal and Argentina that the lingering memories could be difficult to douse. While Argentina have emerged as Olympic winners on two occasions, hosts Brazil are yet to cherish Olympic glory.
Most countries have announced the names of 18 players that will form the squads in both men’s and women’s competitions. Among men, the Summer Games will see a large number of players under the age of 23 in keeping with the traditional philosophy of preparing a platform for the next generation of stars. Messi, Ronaldo, Fabio Cannavaro and Romario are some names, who have played in Olympics before creating a niche for themselves on the international scene. Host Brazil is a football crazy nation but the Olympic gold has eluded them thus far. In the last Olympics at London, Brazil reached the final but lost the match to Mexico after a patchy play in defense. This time round, home support will offer Brazil a huge advantage and they also have a star cast that looks superior to many other countries. Among women, USA have dominated, since football was first introduced at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. The US women have won the gold in 4 Olympics with Sydney’s 2000 Games being the lone exception. But they reached the finals in Sydney as well before losing to Norway in the gold medal match.
For football at the Rio Games, men’s draw has 16 teams and women’s 12. Therefore while preliminary stages will feature 4 Groups of 4 teams each for men, women’s draw will have just 3 Groups of 4 teams each. Two best men’s team will proceed to the knock-out stage. Among women, besides the two best teams in the three Groups, the other quarter finalists will come from among the two best third-placed teams.
Though Brazilian team will be spearheaded by Neymar and Renato Augusto, two other footballers are attracting a lot of attention these days. The media are dubbing them as two Gabriels. One is the 19-year old wonder-kid Gabriel Barbosa, nicknamed as Gabigol while the other is called Gabriel Jesus. Gabigol is already being compared to Neymar but lot of people say, Jesus is better. Gabigol plays for the same Brazilian Club Santos, which was made famous by football icon Pele. Santos also had Robinho and Neymar in their role, before they attained the heroic status. Gabigol joined Santos’ youth set-up as a 7-year old and has made amazing progress in the ensuing years. He signed his first professional contract as a 15 year old in December 2012 and was paid a hefty sum. He started playing for Santos in 2013 and after 151 appearances; Gabigol has scored 55 goals, most of them as substitute. Last year, the youngster scored 10 goals in Brasileirao, Brazil’s top league. Gabigol also finished as the top-scorer with 8 goals in Copa do Brasil. Gabigol is a great dribbler and technically brilliant. In front of the goal, he is poised and confident, generally emerging as an accomplished finisher. He has been seen to score from the tightest of angles.
Gabriel Jesus plays for the Palmeiras football club Sao Paulo and he is 8 months younger to Gabigol. He attracted attention after finishing as the top-scorer with 29 goals in the junior Copa Sao Paulo as a 15-year old. Since 2015, he is a regular at Palmeiras. In his inaugural year, Jesus was voted as the best newcomer of the 2015 Brasileirao and helped Palmeiras win the Copa do Brasil. In many ways, Jesus is similar to Gabigol. He is also an excellent dribbler and his neat tricks and imagination are similar to the great Ronaldinho, who was capable of creating magic on the football field.