The European Championships and Copa America may be over but a remarkable summer of football rolls on at the Tokyo Olympics.
Brazil head to Japan looking to defend their Gold Medal, while they’ve finished in the top three in each of the last three Olympics. But the likes of Spain, Germany and France have all entered strong teams into the tournament.
With squads mostly made up of young players, supplemented by three overage stars, the Olympics often offer up-and-coming talents the chance to show the world what they’re capable of, while the veterans can strut their stuff one last time, leading the next generation forward.
So, who are the most exciting players at this summer’s men’s Olympic football tournament?
10. Takehiro Tomiyasu (Japan)
With Nuno Espirito Santo behind his desk, Tottenham are hard at work building their squad for the new season and one reported target for the Lilywhites is Japanese defender Takehiro Tomiyasu. The 22-year-old is able to play at both centre-back and right-back and enjoyed a fine 2020/21 campaign with Bologna, ranking second at the club for interceptions (54) and clearances (102) as the Red and Blues finished in a comfortable 12th in Serie A. Tomiyasu is also a talented carrier of the ball and Spurs fans will be keeping a keen eye on his progress this summer as rumours of his arrival grow.
9. Lee Kang-in (South Korea)
Lee Kang-in is the youngest player in South Korea’s Olympic squad but he comes in with one of the biggest reputations. The 20-year-old played 24 times in La Liga for Valencia last season, managing four assists and wowing supporters with his precision passing and mesmeric dribbling. Lee has even earned comparisons to David Silva in the past and if he can perform even close to the levels of the Spanish playmaker this summer, South Korea might well add to their sole Bronze Medal earned at the 2012 Olympics.
“The Olympic tournament is as important as the U-20 World Cup, and we’re all working toward our ultimate goal,” Lee said recently. “It’s no different this time. We want to win the title.”
8. Florian Thauvin (France)
It’s not too often you get to see a 28-year-old World Cup winner at the Olympic Games but having fallen out of favour with the senior national team, Florian Thauvin will now help lead a young French squad in Tokyo this summer. Thauvin recently swapped Marseille for Tigres in Mexico and most will be aware of his ability to slice open opposition defences and curl in the occasional worldie for himself. If France are to succeed in Tokyo, you get the feeling Thauvin will be their key player.
7. Andre-Pierre Gignac (France)
Although everything will flow through Thauvin, it’s his Tigres teammate, Andre-Pierre Gignac, that fans will likely be more excited to watch. His decision to move to Tigres from Marseille in the summer of 2015 was a huge surprise given the likes of Inter Milan and Lyon were linked with his signature. But since doing so, Gignac has never looked back, scoring 149 goals and becoming an icon in San Nicolas. Now 35, Gignac heads to these games as a Concacaf Champions League winner and this will be the first time he’s represented France in any capacity since 2016, so he’ll be keen to remind his homeland of his capabilities.
6. Marco Asensio (Spain)
Club: Real Madrid
In terms of value, star quality and the size of his trophy cabinet, they don’t come much bigger at these Olympics than Marco Asensio. Yes, the 25-year-old has struggled to fully deliver on his huge potential having started just 43 of his 74 La Liga appearances over the past three seasons due to fitness concerns. In fact, Asensio managed just nine goals and seven assists during that time. But the Real Madrid midfielder is still an immense talent who is able to turn a game on its head on his day. In what has been a great summer for Spanish football, this might just be his chance to stake his claim in the senior national team once again.
5. Richarlison (Brazil)
Though he only managed to get on the scoresheet once, Richarlison played seven times at Copa America for Brazil this summer, helping his nation to the final, where they ultimately came up short against Argentina. But the Everton forward — who has scored 33 goals in 105 Premier League appearances for the Toffees — will get another chance to lead Brazil to glory at the Olympics, with the Selecao looking to retain the Gold Medal they won in Rio five years ago. Rumour has it Carlo Ancelotti has reached out to his former player recently regarding a move to Real Madrid, so the Olympics could prove yet another platform to display his talents to the higher powers at the Bernabeu.
4. Amad Diallo (Ivory Coast)
Club: Manchester United
Joining Manchester United for an initial fee in excess of £20m is a lot of pressure to carry when you’re just a teenager, but Amad Diallo doesn’t seem to be fazed by the situation.
“To tell you the truth, I am never afraid of playing,” Diallo said recently when asked about his Premier League debut against Leicester in May. “That has always been my strength, never being afraid to play.
“When they told me the day before the game, that I was going to play against Leicester. Okay, I was a bit nervous initially, but this is football, you can never be afraid.”
With that in mind, the prospect of playing in the Olympics isn’t likely to scare Diallo either, and his speed and skill will prove vital to the Ivory Coast’s chances of picking up a medal. Man Utd fans will be keeping an eye on the Olympics with an extra hint of interest, for sure.
3. Dani Olmo (Spain)
Club: RB Leipzig
Though Spain crashed out of the Euro 2020 semi-finals, they really put eventual winners Italy to the test. In particular, Dani Olmo was sensational, playing as a false-nine and giving the Azzurri defenders the run-around all night. Skilful, creative and intelligent, Olmo will be viewed as a leader in this Olympic camp, not to mention a consistent source of goals and assists alongside Asensio.
2. Dani Alves (Brazil)
Club: Sao Paulo
Sure, at 38 years old, there’s little chance we’ll see Dani Alves tearing up and down the touchline this summer as he did during his Barcelona days. But this is a player with a ridiculous 42 trophies to his name — more than any other player in the history of football. That alone makes the prospect of him winning an Olympic Gold Medal incredibly exciting and in all honesty, most neutrals will probably be rooting for him. What a leader for this young Brazil squad to look up to.
1. Pedri (Spain)
Absolutely nobody could question Pedri’s inclusion in the official Euro 2020 Best XI but to achieve that feat at just 18 years old is truly astounding. The teenager’s most impressive feat was completing all 55 of his passes in 90 minutes during Spain’s semi-final clash against Italy.
— Chris Smith ⚽✍️ (@CJSmith91) July 6, 2021
But Pedri also created the fifth-highest number of chances (11) throughout the tournament, while he was fifth for passes completed (421) and first for final-third passes completed (177). After an incredible breakout season with Barcelona and a run to the final four of the Euros, winning Olympic Gold would only build the excitement already developing around this supremely talented playmaker.