Football at the Tokyo Olympics 2020 has turned out to be an exciting contest, as teams across the competition took advantage of the relaxed rules to field superstars who contributed to their teams in spectacular style. While the big names of world football were certainly absent from the competition owing to age limits and excessive workload, there were quite a few experienced players who featured for their countries.
Here we take a look at five superstars who lit up the Olympics with their mesmerising performances:
France’s Andre-Pierre Gignac was certainly the odd one out among a field of youngsters at Tokyo. The 36-year-old French captain is past his prime – he was left out of the French squad for the recently concluded Euros. But the experience the Tigres UANL striker brings to a young team has been recognised as he was selected to lead the Olympic squad. Gignac opened the scoring with a goal against Mexico in the opening fixture, but France had to contend with a 4-1 drubbing.
Gignac then mesmerised fans with a hattrick against South Africa, levelling the score each time the South Africans pulled ahead. France would go on to register a thrilling 4-3 victory over the South Africans, keeping them alive in the competition. But a surprise performance from hosts Japan eliminated the world champions, denying Gignac the chance to showcase his skills some more.
Japan’s run to the semifinals of the competition was spearheaded by Takefusa Kubo, whose three crucial goals earned the hosts a fourth-place finish. In a team full of young players, Kubo’s experience in Europe proved to be vital as to produce match-winning moments against much more experienced opponents. Notably, Kubo scored in all three group-stage games – opening the team’s tally in all three fixtures.
The 20-year-old Read Madrid winger has been itching to be a regular starter in La Liga for the past couple of years, and his performance in the Olympics back up his case. Kubo’s agility and his aerial domination due to his tall stature make him a potent force for any team, and it remains to be seen what decision Real Madrid will take about his future.
The Mexican National Team has won the hearts of fans back at home through an incredible display of grit and skill to clinch the bronze medal in Tokyo. Leading the young but talented squad from the front is Alexis Vega, who scored two goals and two assists in the tournament. The Guadalajara midfielder has already hogged the limelight in the past two years at the national level with his performances in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship, where he was awarded the Golden Ball award. His attacking style of play combined with long shot ability makes him a potent force in the midfield, and European clubs will now be keen to add the multi-faceted youngster to their rosters.
Pedri’s rise in football has been phenomenal – the teenager has gone from making his debut two years ago to being voted the Young Player of the Tournament in the Euros in a very short span. The youngster once again made his mark at the Olympics as he went past Bruno Fernandes to play the most number of matches in a single season – 73 combined for club and country. Pedri’s maturity and unpredictability, combined with high passing accuracy make him a potent force in the midfield, and despite protests from Ronald Koeman, the Spanish national team was keen on including him in the Olympic squad.
La Roja’s confidence in the youngster seemed to pay off as Spain cruised to the final without a defeat, although they had to give way to Brazil. Back-to-back strong performances from the teenager have attracted the eyeballs of clubs everywhere, and although the youngster is keen on staying at Barcelona, he will be keenly sought after in the transfer market.
Brazil’s captain and legend Dani Alves gets most of the credit for leading his team to a second consecutive Olympic gold medal this year. At 38 years, Dani Alves was one of the oldest players in the tournament, but his age did not stop the Sao Paulo FC right-back from being at the forefront of the team’s strategy. Alves is now the most decorated player in the history of football – with 44 trophies across club and country, Alves stands above even the likes of Messi and Ronaldo in his contributions to the teams.
Despite his age, Alves managed to accumulate more than 600 minutes of gameplay for Brazil – not missing even a single fixture. His ability to rally youngsters who grew up idolising him to build a rock-solid defensive setup that paid off handsomely – Brazil conceded just 4 goals in the tournament. With just the World Cup trophy remaining to be added to his collection, Alves is showing no signs of retiring any time soon.