Men’s football event at the Olympics, while being an under-age event, holds plenty of prestige, especially with the calibre of players and countries who have participated and won gold medals.
The likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar, Tevez Angel Di Maria and John Mikel Obi have participated and become Olympic medalists at some point.
The 2020 Olympics in Tokyo has been nothing short of a spectacle, yet, it has faced plenty of challenges mostly owing to the pandemic.
South Africa, Egypt and Ivory Coast represented Africa with the latter two advancing to the quarterfinals.
Spain, Brazil, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and Mexico are the remaining quarterfinalists.
Four mouthwatering matches will be played tomorrow to decide the countries that will advance to the semifinals.
Spain vs Côte d’Ivoire
For the first time in a while, Spain named a particularly strong squad for the Olympics. Luis de la Fuente’s team comprised of six players who featured at the just concluded Euros including 18-year-old Pedri. This is their fourth appearance at the games and their first in 21 years.
The Spaniards have been underwhelming so far at this event. They were grouped alongside Egypt, Australia and Argentina. Even though they finished in first position, they managed just one win, scoring two goals.
La Roja will need to up the ante when they take on an electric Côte d’Ivoire team. The likes of Dani Olmo and Mikel Oyarzabal will need to be clinical in front of the goal and finish the chances created.
Fuente will require his team to dominate possession of the football and dictate the pace of the game. The absence of injured midfielder, Dani Ceballos might yet prove costly owing to his dynamic creative influence.
Ivory Coast has been beyond decent at this event. Grouped with Brazil, Germany and Saudi Arabia, they finished second at the expense of Germany and without losing.
Manchester United’s Ahmad Diallo has been a sensation while being in the company of Frank Kessie. The African side are defensively solid, led by Eric Bailly.
They will look to soak up the pressure as much as possible while counting on the pace of the forwards to hit on the break.
Both teams seem to be evenly matched and will only be separated by the odd goal.
Prediction: Under 3.5 goals
Japan vs New Zealand
The hosts will be keen to win the gold medal on home soil.
The Japanese took out all comers in Group A including a 4-0 drubbing of France. They scored seven goals and conceded just one.
Real Madrid’s Takefusa Kubo has been the sensation of the competition. The 20-year-old has scored three goals so far- one against each team he has faced.
Coach Hajime Moriyasu will look to continue just in the same way they have played all tournament. He will be counting on the individual brilliance of his team as well as the group’s fluidity in attack.
New Zealand has had to rely on the overaged players to deliver the goods. Premier League’s Chris Wood has been influential for his side. They managed to garner four points having won the first game against South Korea.
While they have surpassed their best performance at the Olympics by qualifying for the quarterfinals, Danny Hay’s men will continue to dream of winning the Gold medal.
Japan looks the overwhelming favourite to advance especially with the retained motivation of playing in their backyard.
Prediction: Japan to win
Brazil vs Egypt
Brazil will have its sights on winning back-to-back Olympic Gold medals after defeating Germany in the 2016 edition in Rio. Andre Jardine also named a particularly strong squad which included players who partook in the just concluded Copa America.
They have been impressive at this event, picking seven points from a possible nine, including defeating Germany 4-2.
Everton’s Richarlison has been unplayable. The forward has scored five goals so far including a hat-trick against Germany in the first match.
Claudinho has been one of the shining lights for Jardine’s team.
Egypt will be pleased to have made the knockouts. They finished with four points from Group C managing an impressive draw with Spain.
Their Achilles heel has been in offense where they managed to score only two goals in the game against Australia. At the back, though, they have been very solid, conceding just one goal.
Shawky Garieb’s men go into this encounter as underdogs- a profile which could well work in their favour.
Brazil has so much quality and will most likely do enough to qualify.
Prediction: Brazil to qualify
South Korea vs Mexico
South Korea will hope to qualify for the semifinals at the Olympics for the second time in its history. They clinched the Bronze medal at the 2012 edition in which Mexico won the Gold medal.
Kim Hak-Bum’s men have shown intent in winning this event after scoring 10 goals in their last two group stage matches against Romania and Honduras.
Valencia’s Kangin Lee has been impressive, coming off the bench to score three goals.
South Korea will fancy its chances against a Mexican team who have had to share the squad into two with some participating at the ongoing CONCACAF Gold Cup.
However, Jaime Lozano’s men have been no slouches themselves. They finished second in a group that included the hosts and France.
Their most experienced player is goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa who will need to inspire his team past this vibrant Asian team.
Lozano will be banking on Alexis Vega to plunder the goals in attack.
This encounter is expected to be feisty with both sides expected to give it a good go.