Ten highlights from the group stage

30 Jul 2021

After a quickfire 24 group matches, the quarter-finals of the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020 are now upon us. With the final sprint to gold about to get under way, FIFA.com looks back at some standout moments from the group phase.

1. No happy homecoming for Gignac “If we go back home before the Mexicans, we’re dead. We won’t hear the end of it for a long time,” France striker Andre-Pierre Gignac told L'Equipe before Les Bleus took on the London 2012 gold medallists in their opening match. The Mexicans ran out 4-1 winners over the French, who two matches later would be heading home with the worst defensive record in the group phase (11 goals conceded). Though the Tigres man scored four goals of his own, it is unlikely to save him from some serious ribbing when he sets foot back in Mexico.

2. Kubo fires the hosts Still only 20, Takefusa Kubo is carrying the expectations of the host nation on his shoulders. The Real Madrid front man delivered in Japan’s Group A opener against South Africa, scoring the only goal of the game 20 minutes from time. By the time the group phase was over, he had added two more to his tally.

3. Brazil hold on A repeat of the Rio 2016 final, there was no question that Brazil’s meeting with Germany was the match of the group phase. Once again, A Seleçao emerged victorious after surging into a 3-0 lead in the first half hour. Though the Germans hit back twice in the second half, Brazil struck in stoppage time to complete a comprehensive 4-2 win.

4. Argentina fall short Gold medallists in 2004 and 2008, silver medallists in 1996, and the winners of the South American qualifying tournament, Argentina began their Tokyo 2020 campaign on the wrong foot, going down 2-0 to Australia. Though they bounced back to beat Egypt 1-0 and then drew 1-1 with Spain, it was not enough to see them through.

5. Romania return, 57 years on Romania’s last appearance at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament came at Tokyo 1964. In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, their coach Mirel Radoi, who is also in charge of the senior national team, explained how symbolically important the tournament was for Romanian football. After kicking off with a 1-0 defeat of Honduras, the Romanians collected just one more point and were unable to emulate their predecessors’ achievement of reaching the last eight.

6. Very special supporters While health restrictions mean most stadiums and arenas are empty at Tokyo 2020, things have been slightly different at Kashima Stadium, where teams have been playing in front of schoolchildren aged between six and 12. The youngsters have been allowed in to savour the Olympic experience.

7. Young lovers reunited In one of the most moving and unexpected moments of the group phase, Germany captain Max Kruse followed up his side’s 3-2 win over Saudi Arabia by getting down on one knee during an interview with German TV and proposing to his girlfriend. “I wanted to wait till I’d scored a goal but who knows if I’d still have been able to do it,” joked Kruse before confirming that she said 'yes'. After Die Mannschaft’s early elimination, he at least has the consolation of being able to see his beloved sooner than expected.

8. Warriors on the rampage Korea Republic have impressed on their record ninth consecutive appearance in the tournament, scoring ten goals to date. The Taegeuk Warriors boast the most prolific attack in the competition, thanks in the main to Hwang Uijo and Lee Kangin, who have helped themselves to three goals apiece.

9. Richarlison finds his form The scorer of a hat-trick against Germany and a brace against Saudi Arabia, Richarlison lit up the group phase with his pace, positioning and finishing. The Brazil forward, who had a Copa America final to forget against Argentina, is the leading scorer at Tokyo 2020 with those five goals.

10. Group D no sweat for The Elephants Though they faced a daunting challenge after being drawn with Brazil and Germany, Côte d’Ivoire held their own against the heavyweights, restricting them to respective 0-0 and 1-1 draws. “We didn’t have any warm-up games before the competition, which made it hard for us to prepare, though it also meant our opponents had no videos of us to watch, while we did of them,” Elephants coach Soualiho Haidara told FIFA.com.