Expect the unpredictable. The Men’s Olympic Football Tournament is a different animal when it comes to global soccer competitions.
That’s because the trends, sample size and data that’s available for senior national teams over the course of months and years just doesn't exist for the teams that will vie for men’s Olympic soccer gold in Tokyo: These are Under-24 teams assembled just for this competition. Outside of brief qualifying competitions, which in most cases happened well over a year ago, the players have never played together in real competition.
Of course, the reason that Olympic men’s soccer has been an event with an age cutoff since 1992 (save for three over-age wildcards) is so that it doesn’t conflict with FIFA’s lucrative men’s World Cup, which comes every four years. When professional athletes were allowed to participate in the Olympics, there needed to be a way to differentiate the two competitions.
While established soccer countries would love to add an Olympic gold to their trophy case, it’s not deemed a vital competition — the best players are also not required to participate, nor are their clubs compelled to release them. In fact, there are several players who wanted to play at the Olympics, but didn’t get the clearance from the club teams that cut their paychecks.
All the above makes for a more level playing field at the Olympics, and a compelling tournament on a number of levels. While the final usually features teams with pedigree, this competition does not follow the accepted world soccer order: Honduras made the semifinals in 2016, Japan and South Korea did the same in 2012 and Iraq vs. Paraguay was a semifinal in 2004.
If there was ever a tournament to take a flyer on a couple of outsiders, it’s this one.
Men’s 2021 Olympic Soccer Futures
The oddsmakers are clear: Spain, and its six holdovers from the Euro 2021 semifinalist squad, is the favorite to win gold. Spain is followed by the other four big names in the competition: Brazil, France, Germany and Argentina. No surprise there: It's all based on the countries' soccer reputation. Spain and Brazil do have the most stacked rosters at the tournament, but until you see the big teams in action, it’s tough to separate them.
The luck of the draw also matters in tournament soccer: Spain could meet Brazil in a quarterfinal pairing. That’s even more of a reason to look past the favorites and hone in on two longer shots, which could see their prices shrink quickly a few games into the tournament.
The Ivory Coast (+5000 to +6600) won’t get any headline love, but it has a pathway to the final. Led by AC Milan star Franck Kessie (above), the Ivorians’ style of play — a combination of sublime skill, creativity, size, athleticism and power — will give fits to both Brazil and Germany in Group D. Spain or Argentina would face similar matchup problems in an eventual quarterfinal, and the semifinal would see Ivory Coast meet one of the top teams from the other side of the bracket. But the only intimidating team there is France, and that’s in name alone. The Ivorians would see it as a battle of equals.
Mexico is another team that’s mispriced at +3300 to +4000, and that’s mainly because of the big name (France) and host Japan in its group. But this Mexico team is deep and experienced — many of the players have played matches with the senior national team — and it has gamebreakers on the roster. If the Mexicans can get out of the group, they can get to a semifinal and will like their chances as overlooked underdogs if one of the powers get there (Spain, Argentina, Brazil or Germany).
Olympic futures: To Win a Medal
Similar to what they do with the women’s competition, U.S. sportsbook PointsBet has odds on men’s Olympic soccer teams winning a medal. Spain (-325), Brazil (-250) and France (-170) are the only teams at minus money.
If you didn’t like the Ivory Coast or Mexico to win the tournament, taking them to medal could be more attractive: Mexico, led by Diego Lainez (below), is priced at +1200 and the Ivory Coast at +1600.
Japan (+400) and South Korea (+500), both have a single soccer bronze medal in their Olympic history, but they also have a track record of falling short in international competition and failing to come up with the big play when they need it most against the top teams. But if a forward star emerges for either one of them, they might be able to get over the hump in this competition and add a second soccer medal. They're on the right side of the bracket to do it.
Olympic futures: Group winners
Which teams can definitely win their group and are definitely not being given a real shot by the oddsmakers? Well, it’s those two teams again: the Ivory Coast (+600 to +1000) in Group D and Mexico (+350 to +400) in Group A.
Group B is the weakest group of them all, but the international reputation of Honduras — the senior men's team is ranked No. 67 in the world — is carrying over into their Olympic price to win the group (+500 to +600). But this Honduras team has done relatively well at recent Olympic tournaments, finishing second in the group stage in both 2012 and 2016. They very well might finish short again this time, but chances are good the Hondurans will enter the final matchday against South Korea with a shot at the top of the group.
A reminder that Honduras knocked off the U.S. Olympic team during qualifying. The Catrachos will consider Romania, South Korea and New Zealand as winnable games.
Top goal scorer
BetRivers has odds on the top scorer of the men’s Olympic competition, and the list below features the players with +1000 or shorter odds.
Assuming a deep run in the tournament, Brazil winger Richarlison (+1000) might be the most interesting name in the bunch, even ahead of teammate and center forward Matheus Cunha (+500). He was dangerous for a conservative Brazil team at the Copa America. If this Brazil Olympic team is more expressive and attack-minded — and it won’t take much to accomplish that by comparison — then Richarlison (above) should get his share of looks at goal. Plus, given Richarlison’s seniority, you’d imagine that he’d be the one taking any in-game penalty kicks.
Outside of this group of leading contenders, Spain's Dani Olmo (+1500) could be an interesting play if you think the Spanish will follow through on their title of gold-medal favorites and dominate the competition on their way to the final. His runs into the box from wide or withdrawn positions made him a threat for Spain during Euro 2021.
|Andre-Pierre Gignac (FRA)||+500|
|Matheus Cunha (BRA)||+500|
|Adolfo Gaich (ARG)||+800|
|Hwang Ui-Jo (KOR)||+800|
|Max Kruse (GER)||+800|
|Daizen Maeda (JAP)||+800|
|Marco Asensio (SPA)||+1000|
|Ezequiel Barco (ARG)||+1000|
|Gabriel Martinelli (BRA)||+1000|
|Ritsu Doan (JAP)||+1000|