Intrigue aplenty as outsiders meet the elite

  • Men’s quarter-final line-up a blend of heavyweights and underdogs

  • Europe and South America with just one representative apiece

  • Egypt and New Zealand among the teams plotting upsets

The Men’s Olympic Football Tournament reaches the quarter-final stage with clear frontrunners joined by a few dark horses.

Japan and Brazil, hosts and holders respectively, will be strongly fancied after impressive group stage campaigns. But momentum is building for others in the last eight, and all have shown – either consistently or in flashes – the potential to go the distance.

Match schedule

Saturday 31 July (all times local) Spain-Côte d'Ivoire Miyagi Stadium, 17:00

Japan-New Zealand Kashima Stadium, 18:00

Brazil-Egypt Saitama Stadium, 19:00

Korea Republic-Mexico Yokohama International Stadium, 20:00

Key points

Star power and an Olympic omen Spain and Côte d'Ivoire called on some heavy hitters for their Olympic campaigns and, so far at least, that decision has been vindicated. With six players – including the exciting, inventive Pedri – having been drafted in from the squad that competed at UEFA EURO 2020, La Roja looked assured and in control throughout their group campaign. This is also the first Olympics at which the Spanish have topped their group since 1992, when a team including Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique famously won gold. The Ivorians, for their part, pipped a youthful Germany side to qualification thanks largely to the experience and class provided by Eric Bailly, Max Gradel and Franck Kessie. No-one at this tournament, Brazil included, has found a way to beat Les Elephants, and Spain will need to be at their best to become the first.

New style meets new standards Having arrived in Japan with star striker Chris Wood vowing that the team would “turn heads”, New Zealand lived up to that promise. Observers have been quick to praise the OlyWhites not only for qualifying for a first-ever quarter-final, but the attractive style in which they went about doing so. “No New Zealand team has played football the way these guys can,” enthused Wood on Wednesday. But Danny Hay’s impressive side will need to raise their game even further against an in-form Japan team whose morale was boosted yet further by a 4-0 thumping of France. The hosts are also protecting the men’s tournament’s only unblemished record, having won all three group-stage matches for the first time in their history.

SAITAMA, JAPAN - JULY 28: Richarlison #10 of Team Brazil celebrates with team mates after scoring their side's second goal during the Men's First Round Group D match between Saudi Arabia and Brazil on day five of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Saitama Stadium on July 28, 2021 in Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Buda Mendes - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Egyptian underdogs out to bite Brazil All the stats, both current and historic, would suggest only one likely outcome in Saitama. Brazil, after all, are unbeaten in their last nine Olympic matches, have lost just once in their last 16 and, of the eight quarter-finals they have faced, have won seven. In five-goal Richarlison, the holders also possess the tournament’s most potent striker. They face, however, an Egypt team built on a solid and vastly experienced rearguard that has been breached just once across 270 minutes of Olympic football. Intrigue looks to be assured as an irresistible attacking force meets an immovable defensive object.

Bogey team await El Tri Mexico also impressed during the group stage, with their quick, effective counter-attacks the subject of praise from FIFA’s Technical Study Group. But in Korea Republic, they are facing a familiar - and feared - Olympic foe. This, in fact, is the third Games in succession – and the fourth since 1996 – at which these sides have met, and each of those encounters ended without a single Mexican goal. Besides seeking to end that barren run against their Olympic nemeses, Jaime Lozano's side will also need to keep at bay the tournament’s top scorers, with Korea Republic having scored ten unanswered goals in their last two matches alone.

BRASILIA, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10: Son Heungmin #7 of South Korea celebrates the victory during the Group C match between Mexico v Korea Republic of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Mane Garrincha Stadium on August 10, 2016 in Brasilia, Brazil. (Photo by Celso Junior/Getty Images)