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Women’s football at the Olympics: Everything you need to know

Women’s football at the Olympics: Everything you need to know

Unlike on the men’s side, the Olympic Games is a highly-prestigious tournament in women’s football.

At women’s international level, claiming Olympic Gold is second only to winning the World Cup.

With that in mind, expect a very competitive competition with 12 of the best teams on the planet fighting it out for medals.

When are matches taking place?

Group stage matches: 21, 24 & 27 July.

Quarter-finals: 30 July.

Semi-finals: 2 August.

Bronze medal match: 5 August.

Gold medal match: 6 August.

What is the draw?

Group E: Japan, Canada, Great Britain & Chile.

Group F: Brazil, China PR, Netherlands & Zambia.

Group G: United States, Sweden, Australia & New Zealand.

Which teams are most likely to win a medal?

1) United States

Women’s football at the Olympics: Everything you need to know

LYON, FRANCE – JULY 07: Megan Rapinoe of the USA celebrates scoring the first goal from the penalty spot during the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France Final match between The United State of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

As ever, the United States are the favourites to win a women’s international tournament and with good reason.

The Stars and Stripes retained the World Cup in 2019, beating Netherlands 2-0 in the final, thereby lifting the trophy for the fourth time.

At the Olympics, the USWNT have claimed gold in 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012 whilst settling for silver in 2000.

Their 2016 Olympics campaign though was a disaster, crashing out in the quarter-finals, losing a penalty shootout to Sweden in Brasília.

Given that that is technically a draw, the U.S. are unbeaten in 52 competitive internationals, winning 17 in-a-row, last losing in July 2011 to Sweden in the World Cup group stages.

Thus, it would be a major surprise if Vlatko Andonovski’s side didn’t leave Tokyo with a medal, in all probability of the gold variety.

The new Head Coach has named his strongest available roster for this competition.

38 year old Carli Lloyd will be looking to add to her 126 international goals which is, remarkably, 58 less than Abby Wambach’s national record.

Alex Morgan is the other squad member with 100+ international goals; she, like Lloyd, won Olympic Gold in 2012.

Other forwards, Christen Press and Tobin Heath, both impressed at Manchester United last season.

The U.S. will face three familiar opponents in the Olympic Games group stages.

First up, they’ll be looking for revenge against Sweden, the side that ended their Olympic ambitions five years ago.

After that, it’s New Zealand, a side they beat 2-0 at the last Olympics and then Australia who they overcame 3-1 at the 2015 World Cup.

USA are certainly in the toughest of the three groups but they should still top it and then go on to claim gold in Tokyo on 6 August.

2) Great Britain

England celebrate at the Women's World Cup

LE HAVRE, FRANCE – JUNE 27: Lucy Bronze of England celebrates scoring the third goal during the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France Quarter-final between Norway and England at Stade Océane on June 27, 2019 in Le Havre, France. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Will this highly-talented Great Britain side go all the way?

This is just the second Olympic Games Team GB have entered, crashing out in the quarter-finals on home soil in 2012, losing to Canada in Coventry.

Hege Riise has been tasked with bringing together the best of the British nations to build a coherent side for this competition.

Her 22-player squad includes mostly English players as well as Kim Little and Caroline Weir of Scotland and Wales’ Sophie Ingle.

This squad contains talent everywhere you look.

Right-back Lucy Bronze was named The Best FIFA Women’s Player in 2020 and has won 15 club honours in her career, including three Champions Leagues in-a-row with Lyon.

Manchester City captain Steph Houghton, who’s won 125 caps for England and GB combined, will start alongside Bronze in defence.

Further forward, 2021 Women’s Player of the Year Fran Kirby is one of many attacking options.

The Chelsea winger will be competing for a start with other WSL stars Lauren Hemp, Georgia Stanway and Nikita Parris who’s recently left Olympique Lyonnais for Arsenal.

Ellen White is likely to lead the line.

The Man City striker scored twice in a warm-up friendly against New Zealand on 14 July and scored six times as England reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2019.

GB kick off their campaign against Chile before two much tougher games against Japan and then Canada.

In terms of talent, Team GB should be competing for a medal so will this team come together and form a successful side?

3) Netherlands

Women’s football at the Olympics: Everything you need to know

BASEL, SWITZERLAND – JUNE 21: Holland fans pictured during the UEFA EURO 2008 Quarter Final match between Netherlands and Russia at St. Jakob-Park on June 21, 2008 in Basel, Switzerland. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Over the last few years, no European nation has enjoyed as much success as Netherlands in Women’s international football.

In 2017, they won their first Women’s Euros, lifting the trophy on home soil, a competition they’ll look to retain at the next Euros in July 2022.

Then, at the World Cup in 2019, knockout victories over Japan, Italy and Sweden saw them get all the way to the final where they were beaten by the unstoppable force that is the U.S.

So, despite the fact this is the first time Oranje have qualified for the Olympics on the Women’s side, they’re amongst the favourites.

If they did leave Tokyo with a medal, it would be the country’s first football Olympics medal for 101 years.

The simple reason as to why Holland are such a force is that they have some of the best players on the planet.

Arsenal striker Vivianne Miedema has already scored 73 goals for her country despite being just 25 years old.

Her former club teammate Daniëlle van de Donk, now of Lyon, is one of the best attacking midfielders in the world.

Aside from these two, Wolfsburg duo Jill Roord and Shanice van de Sanden as well as Barcelona’s Lieke Martens will trouble any defence.

Head Coach Sarina Wiegman, who led Holland to the aforementioned Euros glory, will leave after this competition to become England’s Head Coach.

Netherlands are in a relativity kind Group F alongside Zambia, China and Brazil so will they continue to be a force in big competitions?

4) Australia

Women’s football at the Olympics: Everything you need to know

NICE, FRANCE – JUNE 22: The Australia players pose for a team photo prior to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France Round Of 16 match between Norway and Australia at Stade de Nice on June 22, 2019 in Nice, France. (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images )

Will Australia finally deliver on the big stage?

The Matildas won three successive OFC Nations Cups before moving across to Asia where they were crowned champions of that continent in 2010.

Since, they’ve lost in back-to-back Women’s Asian Cup Finals, in 2014 and 2018, against Japan both times.

Despite this, they’re yet to make the step up on the global scene.

At the Olympics, the best Australia have managed is the quarter-finals, losing to Sweden in 2004 and Brazil in a penalty shootout five years ago.

In France two summers ago, the Matildas were hoping to go all the way but saw their adventure cut short in the round of 16, losing to Norway, again in a penalty shootout.

The reason so much is expected of Australia is that their squad includes some top players.

Arsenal trio Lydia Williams (goalkeeper), Steph Catley (centre-back) and Caitlin Foord (winger) are all likely to start at this competition.

Their star player and captain though is Sam Kerr.

The 27 year old has scored 42 international goals and, for her club Chelsea, has scored 22 times in just 26 league appearances.

Having already won the league in Australia and the States, she won five major honours in London including back-to-back FAWSL titles.

Despite all of her club honours, Kerr will be desperate to fire her national team to some success.

Australia kick off their Olympics campaign against New Zealand; these two co-host the 2023 World Cup, making this competition doubly important ahead of that one.

Then, Tony Gustavsson’s side play Sweden before their final group match against back-to-back world champions USA.

Group G is certainly the toughest of the three groups but, assuming Australia reach the knockout phase, they’ll be hopeful of brining home a medal.

5) Sweden

Women’s football at the Olympics: Everything you need to know

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN – SEPTEMBER 08: Sweden supporters wave flags during a UEFA Euro 2020 Qualification match between Sweden and Norway at Friends Arena on September 8, 2019 in Stockholm, Sweden. (Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images)

Will Sweden claim an Olympic medal, just as they did in 2016?

In Brazil five years ago, the Blue and Yellows beat the favourites USA en route to claiming a Silver Medal, losing 2-1 to Germany in the final at the Maracanã.

Aside from this, Sweden have been a constant force on both a continental and world level.

They won the first ever Women’s Euros, in 1984, and have reached at least the semi-finals six times since, most recently in 2013.

Sweden also reached the World Cup Final in 2003 and have finished third at that competition on three occasions; 1991, 2011 and 2019.

In the latter, they beat Chile, Thailand, Canada and Germany before losing to the Netherlands in the semi-finals but bounced back by beating England in the third-place play-off.

So, Peter Gerhardsson’s side are very much in the conversation at this tournament.

This could be captain Caroline Seger’s last tournament; the 36 year old has won 215 caps and plays for the league’s most successful club Rosengård.

Other key players include defenders Magdalena Eriksson (Chelsea) and Amanda Ilestedt (Bayern Munich) as well as the squad’s top scorer Sofia Jakobsson who’s just moved to Bayern.

Sweden are in Group G, the group of death, and kick off against the U.S. before meetings with Australia and New Zealand.

After claiming silver in Rio, will they go all the way in Tokyo?

6) Brazil

Women’s football at the Olympics: Everything you need to know

HONG KONG, CHINA – 2014/02/28: In this photo illustration, the national flag of Brazil is seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Alvin Chan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

After going so close at almost every Olympics to date, will the Brazilian Women’s National Team bring home the Gold Medal this year?

So far, their best performance at the Olympics was back-to-back silvers in 2004 and 2008, losing to the U.S. in the final both times.

Aside from that, Brazil have lost in the Bronze medal match three times, 1996, 2000 and 2016, therefore narrowly missing out on a medal, the latter on home soil.

However, this does mean Brazil have reached at least the semi-finals at five of the six Olympics since Women’s football was added.

In South America, Seleção dominate having won seven of the eight Copa América Femeninas, reaching the final of the other, as well as three of the last five Pan American Games.

However, recently, they haven’t been able to translate this into World Cup success, last winning a knockout game in 2007 when they reached the final.

At the last two World Cups, they’ve crashed out in the round of 16, losing to Australia in 2015 and then France two years ago.

But Pia Sundhage’s squad has undoubted quality.

Captain Marta, now 35, has been named FIFA World Player of the Year six times and has won 22 major honours in her glittering career.

But, she isn’t even close to being the oldest member of the squad; 43 year old Formiga will be looking to add to her 200 caps this summer.

She made her international debut in 1995, coming on in a World Cup group match against Japan.

Brazil, alongside Netherlands, should cruise through Group F which also contains China PR and Zambia.

Whether they can then rise to the big occasion in the subsequent knockout phase is another matter.

7) Canada

Women’s football at the Olympics: Everything you need to know

Canada’s players pose ahead of the France 2019 Women’s World Cup round of sixteen football match between Sweden and Canada, on June 24, 2019, at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. (Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP) (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images)

Will Canada win a medal for the third successive Olympics?

In 2012, they beat France 1-0 in the Bronze medal match in Coventry before repeating the trick four years later in São Paulo, overcoming hosts Brazil 2-1.

Can Canada make it three successive Bronze Medals or even better?

The Reds constantly have to live in the shadow of their neighbours from the south, the United States, who are the dominant force in Women’s football.

But, Canada are a strong team in their own right.

Although, they didn’t really show that at the last World Cup, crashing out in the round of 16 to Sweden.

Their captain Christine Sinclair will be looking to add to her staggering 299 caps and 186 international goals at this tournament.

She’s one of five players in this squad with 100+ caps alongside Sophie Schmidt (205), Desiree Scott (161), Erin McLeod (118) and Kadeisha Buchanan (103).

Ashley Lawrence, of Paris Saint-Germain, could join them during this tournament, if everything goes to plan, as she currently has 95.

It’s certainly an experienced squad so there is high hopes that Canada will leave with some sort of medal.

They kick off against hosts Japan before facing Chile and then Great Britain in Group E.

8) Japan

Women’s football at the Olympics: Everything you need to know

A picture taken on April 25, 2018 in Paris, shows the jersey of the Japanese national football team for the FIFA 2018 World Cup football tournament. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

A word for the hosts.

Japan are one of just four countries to win the Women’s World Cup, lifting the trophy ten years ago when they beat the United States on penalties in Frankfurt.

Five years later, the U.S. got revenge, hammering Japan 5-2 in the final at BC Place in Vancouver.

At the Olympics, Japan have one Silver Medal to their name, won in 2012 when they also lost to USA in the final.

Then, amazingly, they failed to qualify for Rio 2016, missing out to Australia and China in Asian Olympic Qualification.

Luckily, this time, Asako Takakura’s side didn’t have to worry about qualification.

Being the host nation brings added pressure but this year, sadly, they won’t have the backing of a partizan home crowd.

What the Samurai Blue do have is superstar strikers.

Mana Iwabuchi (Arsenal) has scored 36 goals for her country while Yuika Sugasawa (Urawa Red Diamonds) and Yūka Momiki (OL Reign) have 24 and 14 to their name respectively.

Japan face the two favourites in their group, GB and Canada, first before facing Group E’s weakest outfit Chile in, what could be, a vital third game.

Will the home fans, watching from home, have something to cheer?


Gold Medal: United States.

Silver Medal: Netherlands.

Bronze Medal: Great Britain.