Brazil survived several tough tests to win a second successive gold medal
1992 gold medallists Spain and 2012 winners Mexico claimed the minor medals
Japan impressed on home soil, New Zealand reached new highs, promising stars shone
If Tokyo 2020 was the resilient Games, then perhaps Brazil were apt victors in the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020. A Seleção survived two gruelling extra-time encounters to claim gold once again, doubling up on their breakthrough win on home soil at Rio 2016. Leaving aside the many challenges presented by Covid-19, Brazil showed discipline and desire to firstly outlast a gritty Mexico in the semi-final, before doing so against Spain in the gold medal match. Earlier in the knockout stage they outlasted a well-organised Egypt – the tournament’s best performed team defensively. For the first time since 2004, all six confederations were represented in the quarter-finals. New Zealand achieved a new mark with their last-eight appearance, while notably Korea Republic also impressed as did Côte d'Ivoire. Spain will consider themselves unlucky not to claim Europe’s first gold since they won at home at Barcelona 1992. The Spaniards, marshalled in midfield by Pedri, also displayed their commitment by going through three extra time matches in as many knockout stage outings. Notably, all four semi-finalists looked hungry and willing from the opening match, held as usual, prior to the Opening Ceremony. Mexico looked capable of reprising their London 2012 win, only to suffer penalty shoot-out elimination against Brazil. Hosts Japan also turned in a strong campaign before semi-final heartbreak against Spain just minutes from a shoot-out. For any further evidence of the desire of the players at the back-end of the tournament, look no further than Brazil’s evergreen captain Dani Alves who called the gold medal “the greatest achievement of his career”. Some accolade given the former Barcelona star’s remarkable record-breaking career silverware haul.
Defining matches Argentina 0-2 Australia The opening matchday saw Australia stun Argentina with a deserved win, with the result indicating that pre-tournament expectations would not always be met in this competition. Goals in each half in Sapporo saw the two-time Olympic kings undone, and the ten-men Argentines could have lost by a greater margin. Media Down Under said the Olyroos “shocked the world” and while Australia missed the knockout stage, the result also ultimately ended the hopes of one of the favourites.
Spain 5-2 (AET) Côte d'Ivoire Heavily-backed Spain seemed set to go out against a Côte d'Ivoire within touching distance of a first appearance in the medal round. It took until the third of five allotted added-time minutes for Spain to draw level for a second time in the match. Spain made the most of an open extra time, with Rafa Mir scoring a treble as La Roja registered more goals in 120 minutes in Miyagi than their five other matches combined. Brazil 2-1 (AET) Spain Both nations went into the contest in Yokohama seeking to join Argentina on two gold medals since the current format of the competition was introduced in 1992. Matheus Cunha and Mikel Oyarzabal struck for Brazil and Spain respectively in either half. Brazil, invoking the spirits of the nation’s storied 2002 FIFA World Cup™ win at the same venue, displayed more endeavour in attack and, after hitting the crossbar and missing a penalty, the South Americans’ golden moment arrived on 108 minutes with Malcom superbly finishing past an exposed Unai Simon.
Standout players Richarlison - Inspired by the Class of 2016, Brazil’s Richarlison was determined to become an Olympian at Tokyo 2020. The Everton forward has played non-stop for the past year, ending his club season with World Cup qualifiers and playing every match at the recent Copa America, before heading to the Land of the Rising Sun. ‘Pombo’ barely missed a beat in Japan, scoring a tournament-high five goals, including a glorious 30-minute hat-trick against Germany. Takefusa Kubo - Pint-sized winger Takefusa Kubo underlined his status as Japan’s brightest young star at Tokyo 2020. Schooled in Spanish football, the Real Madrid loanee was at the centre of Japan’s promising run to the medal round. He was the hosts’ top scorer, netting in all three group matches, including a winner in the opener against South Africa.
Matheus Cunha - Brazil’s next generation of goalscoring forwards appear in good hands if the form of the uncapped Matheus Cunha is any indication. The Hertha Berlin 22-year-old scored three goals in four matches in Japan, taking his U-23 record to 21 goals in 24 outings.
Notable numbers 0 – The number of times an Oceania Football Confederation nation, other than Australia, had qualified for the knockout stage until New Zealand broke through with an impressive showing at Tokyo 2020. It took a penalty shoot-out to deny New Zealand a spot in the semi-finals. 3 – Brazil’s third successive appearance in the gold medal match was the first time such a feat had been achieved since the early 1970s. The only previous nations to do so came during the Cold War era - Hungary (1964, 1968, 1972) and Yugoslavia (1948, 1952, 1956, 1960). 4 – Dani Alves and New Zealand skipper Chris Wood joined a rare club at Tokyo 2020. Both have now appeared at the four global tournaments: World Cup, FIFA Confederations Cup, the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament and one of the FIFA youth World Cups.
6 – The Tokyo 2020 final was the sixth edition of the men’s gold medal match to go to extra time. And Brazil have been involved in three of them, namely against USSR in 1988, against Germany five years ago and of course against Spain in Yokohama. 57 – All 16 nations at Tokyo 2020 had enjoyed a previous participation in the tournament, but Romania’s wait to return was exceptionally long. The last time Romania featured was 57 years ago when the Olympiad was last held in Tokyo.