Stars collide as Japan welcomes world’s elite
Women’s Olympic Football Tournament kicks off on Wednesday
Sweden-USA and Japan-Canada among the intriguing opening fixtures
Three debutants on show; seventh heaven for 43-year-old Formiga
It’s taken longer than we’d all hoped but, after a year of COVID-enforced waiting and hoping, the world’s best female players are set to once again share the same stage. Two years on from a record-breaking FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in France, Japan will play host to the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament – illuminated by a spectacular, star-studded cast. From Morgan, Martens and Marta to Kerr, Kumagai and Kirby, the dazzling array of talent on show is sure to make for a spellbinding showcase for the women’s game. It promises to start with a bang, too, as the opening matchday pits USA against Sweden, the team that stunned the world champions in the last eight at Rio 2016. There is also an Antipodean derby, a duel between two debutantes and a meeting between the hosts and a team headed by international football’s all-time leading scorer.
Great Britain v Chile Sapporo Dome, 16.30 local time China PR v Brazil Miyagi Stadium 17.00 local time Sweden v USA Tokyo Stadium, 17.30 local time Japan v Canada Sapporo Dome, 19.30 local time Zambia v The Netherlands Miyagi Stadium, 20.00 local time Australia v New Zealand Tokyo Stadium, 20.30 local time
A vacant throne For all the talent that has converged on Tokyo 2020, there is one conspicuous group of absentees: the holders. Germany failed to qualify as a result of their disappointing quarter-final exit at France 2019, becoming the first Women's Olympic champions to miss out on defending their crown since Norway in 2004.
The team to beat USA arrive as clear favourites, and for good reason. Of the six editions of the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament so far, they have topped the podium in four – including three in succession between 2004 and 2012. They also gave an awesome reminder of just why they have won back-to-back FIFA Women’s World Cups in qualifying for these Olympics, blasting through their campaign with 25 goals scored and zero conceded.
First-timers out to impress A quarter of the 12 teams appearing in Japan are making their Olympic debuts. But while Zambia were shock qualifiers in Africa, and Chile are still establishing themselves at international football’s top table, the Netherlands arrive as European champions, World Cup runners-up and with genuine, justified ambitions of returning from these Games with yet another medal. An evergreen inspiration There has never been a Women’s Olympic Football Tournament without Formiga, and Tokyo 2020 will maintain that stunning statistic. Remarkably, Brazil’s opener against China PR comes 25 years to the day after the 43-year-old phenomenon made her first appearance in this competition at Atlanta 1996. The big question now: can the veteran midfielder – winner of two silver medals in 2004 and 2008 – claim her first gold?
A strong message on concussion For the first time at the Olympic Football Tournaments, FIFA – in line with IFAB’s circular No21 - will implement a protocol whereby:
each team will be permitted to use a maximum of one concussion substitute per match;
this concussion substitution may be made regardless of the number of substitutes already used.
This has been introduced with the aim of sending a strong message – ‘if in doubt, sit them out’ – that prioritises player welfare, reduces pressure on medical personnel to make a quick decision and avoids the prospect of teams concerned being left at a numerical disadvantage. Concussion substitutes have already been trialled by FIFA at both the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2020 and the recent FIFA Arab Cup qualifiers and, as with the latter event, there will be official concussion ‘spotters’ in the stands at Tokyo 2020 to help identify problematic head injuries.