Football at the Olympics may not be as exciting as the World Cup, but it's still a wonderful tournament. Due to the age regulation, there are a few big stars in the competition, but the promising talents have the chance to shine.
In the initial Olympic games in modern history held in Athens in 1896, football was missing.
Football in Olympic history
was a new sport compared to classic Olympic sports. The Sheffield rules were recently established and the sport was in a development state. At the 1900 summer Olympics in Paris, for the first time, football was contested. Only two matches were held between the three teams representing Great Britain,France
. The teams were in fact three small clubs named Club Français, Université de Bruxelles, and Upton Park F.C., and no medals were awarded.
In 1904, the year FIFA was born once again, three clubs were contestants, two from the United States and one from Canada. The Canadian won the first ever gold medal of football in the Olympics. The 1908 Olympics was held in England and for the first time, the actual national team competed.Denmark
trashed the two France teams. France B was defeated, 9-1 and the main team saw their goal opened 17 times by the Danish. In the final, Great Britain won the gold medal. Since then, football became a regular Olympic sport and the national teams compete in every Olympics.
The only Olympic without football in the 20th century was the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, where the United States was demonstrating American football. While the United States dropped football from the Olympics, FIFA was orchestrating a new competition named the World Cup. After years of changing the rule of who can play in football at the summer Olympics, the 1996 Olympics finally became what we have today. There is no rule against the professional players who were banned for years but the teams must have players under 23 years old with a maximum of 3 exceptions permitted. In the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, 16 teams of men and 12 women teams have participated.
Football in Olympic history had memorable teams that attracted a lot of attention and wrote new pages in the history of the beautiful game.
The 1992 Summer Olympics was the first time that the Olympic football tournament was dedicated for under-23 teams.Barcelona
was the host city of the 1992 Olympics. Spain's manager was Vicente Miera, a formerReal Madrid
defender andAtlético Madrid
coach. He had Toni Jimenez and Santiago Canizares as his goalkeepers in one of the
best Olympic football teams in history
. At the time, Jimenez was a Barcelona player and Canizares was in Real Madrid. Canizares later became a worldwide famous keeper, especially for his spell in Valencia.
Two of today's most famous managers were in the Spanish squad at that competition.Luis Enrique
was 22 years old and was a key player for Real Madrid. He later joined Barcelona and, after his retirement, started a bright coaching career. He managedAS Roma
and Barcelona and currently he is Spain’s national team manager. The other midfielder that Spain had and today is very famous is of coursePep Guardiola
. Manchester City manager has no need for introduction. He was 21 years old in 1992 and was a crucial player for Barcelona.
Despite the under-23 rule, Spain had enough stars to win football's gold medal on home soil. Spain was in the Group B with Qatar, Egypt, and Colombia. They won all three matches without conceding a goal. As one of the best Olympic Football teams of All time, their first knock-out round match was against Italy. Italy had Demetrio Albertini who couldn't stop La Roja. Kiko scored the single goal of the match.
In the semi-finals, they faced Ghana, and a 2-0 win secured reaching the final. In a minute before the final's first half, Spain's goal was finally opened by Kowalczyk. Abelardo scored the equalizer and Kiko put Spain in the lead. In the 76th minute, Staniek once again leveled the score but Kiko who was the star of the tournament scored a final minute goal to win the gold medal.
The Melbourne 1956 had its own story. Many countries boycotted the Games. The title defenders of the Olympics Football gold medalHungary
was invaded by the Soviet Union, and that put an end to the Golden Team of Magyars. The dusk of Magyars was the dawn of the Soviets. The most iconic goalkeeper of all time,Lev Yashin
, was in the USSR team. Their manager, Gavriil Kachalin, was building a strong team and the 1956 Summer Olympics was the first important tournament his team competed in.
Lev Yashin wasn't the only star in the Soviet's golden team. Mikhail Ogonkov, Nikita Simonyan, Eduard Streltsov, and Valentin Ivanov were other notable players that one of the best Olympic football teams of all time had. In the first round, the Soviets defeatedGermany
, but the next round match, against Indonesia ended goallessly. In the replays, the Soviets won, 4-0, and reached the Semi finals. Their opponent in the Semi final match wasBulgaria
, who thrashed Great Britain, 6-1 in the Quarter finals. Once again, the match ended without any goals in the 90 minutes.
Yashin was impenetrable, but in the 95' Bulgarians scored the opening goal, but two late goals in 112' and 116' completed a come-back for the Red Army. In the final, they faced Yugoslavian comrades, where Anatoli Ilyin scored the single goal of the match and the gold medal was handed to the Soviets. This was the beginning of a golden era for one of the
best ever Olympic football winners
Four years later they won the UEFA European Championship and in the rest of the 1960s and early 1970s they remained a powerful team. The Soviet Union didn't qualify for the next three Olympics and in Munich 1972, they returned and won a bronze medal.
In the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, women’s football was contested for the first time in Olympic history. It was also the first time an African team won the gold medal of football in the Olympic games. The first medal won by Africans was the bronze medal Ghana won in 1992 Barcelona.
The Under-23 rule was apparently good for African teams in football at the summer Olympics. Before the championship ofNigeria
, all the football's gold medals were won by Europeans or Americans. Nigeria's 1996 team was inspirational with memorable stars like Taribo West,Jay-Jay Okocha
, and Nwankwo Kanu. In the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney, Cameroon had relentless Lions in their football team.
The 16 years old Carlos Kameni was the goalkeeper. He later was known for his long time spell in Spanish clubs Espanyol andMalaga
. Lauren was the right back ofCameroon
. At the age of 23, he played for another La Liga club, Mallorca. Shortly after the Olympics, he joined Arsenal. The Left-back was Pierre Womé, who played forBologna
in Serie A while he was 21 years old. Geremi was the Lion in the Midfield. The 21 years old Real Madrid player had a very successful spell with Chelsea, winning two back to back Premier League titles.
There was a 19 years old talent who was owned by Real Madrid namedSamuel Eto'o
. Eto'o was playing for Mallorca at the time. He later became one of the most notable strikers in the world. He was numerous titles during his time in Barcelona andInter Milan
. The over age star Cameroon brought in Sydney in 2000 was Patrick M'Boma. He won the Coupe de France withParis Saint-Germain
, but at the time of the Olympics he was Coppa Italia’s top scorer as a Cagliari player.
They passed the group stage behind the United States. In the quarter finals they faced Brazil. M'Boma scored an early goal andRonaldinho
scored the equalizer in the last seconds, but Cameroon won by golden goal in extra time. In Semi final they defeatedChile
and advanced to the final match against Spain.
Xavi scored in the second minute of the game and Gabri doubled the lead before halftime. An own goal in 53' and the equalizer scored by Eto'o led to extra time and the penalty shootouts. All five players we mentioned scored the penalties and Amaya, who scored the own goal, missed his shot and as one of the
best Olympic football teams of all time
, Cameroon won the gold medal of the Olympics.
One of the best Olympic football teams of all time wasBrazil
in 2016. As the host of the 2014 World Cup, Brazil's story ended with a tragic defeat against Germany. They didn't want to repeat the World Cup's catastrophic experience. Their leader and captain wasNeymar
, of course. Neymar's injury in the 2014 World Cup was assumed as one of the main reasons why Brazil failed to win in the last matches.
The current Paris Saint-Germain captain,Marquinhos
, was in the center of the defense.Lazio
's number 10, Felipe Anderson, was in a good form. Rafinha was another midfielder Brazil had in the tournament. The Wings for Neymar in the forward line were two promising talents, both named Gabriel. Gabriel Barbosa, who is also known as Gabigol, was Santos' talent, moving to Inter Milan. The other striker wasGabriel Jesus
, who joined Manchester City and wears the number 9 of the English champions.
As one of the
best ever Olympic football winners
, the Brazilians didn't start the tournament very well. The first two group stage matches, against South Africa andIraq
, ended without a goal. In the 26th minute of the last group stage match, Barbosa scored Brazil's first goal. Gabriel Jesus and Luan Vieira and Barbosa himself again made the victory over Denmark bigger.
The first opponent in the Knock-out phase wasColombia
. Neymar scored in 12' and Luan in 83' scored his second goal of the tournament.Honduras
didn't stand a chance against Brazil. Neymar and Jesus both scored a brace and a single goal from Marquinhos and Luan made the result 6-0 and secured the final. The final was against Germany.
Brazil has won five and Germany has won four FIFA World Cups, but they failed to win any Olympic gold medals. Other than the first Olympic goal medal, Brazil was seeking revenge for the 2014 semifinals, where they lost, 7-1 to Germany. The host team took the lead by the 27' goal Neymar scored. He scored the goal from a free kick. In 59' Meyer made the match level and the penalty shootout decided who is the winner.
Brazilians scored their all five penalties while the well known German players Matthias Ginter,Serge Gnabry
, Julian Brandt, and Niklas Sule put the ball into the net, but Nils Petersen's shot was saved by Weverton. Brazil won the gold medal for the first time and became one of the
best Olympic football teams of all time
's first gold medal was achieved at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. In the ancient homeland of the Olympics,Carlos Tevez
led them to the final with six victories and without conceding a single goal.Marcelo Bielsa
's team worked perfectly and Tevez was at a level beyond the tournament. Four years later in Beijing, Argentina didn't have Tevez or Bielsa, but it didn't matter because they had Lionel Messi. He had recently replaced Ronaldinho as the key player of Barcelona and at the age of 20 he could play in the Olympics without filling the over age slots.
Nicolás Pareja and Javier Mascherano were two over aged players, along with the captainJuan Roman Riquelme
. Almost all of the Under-23 players that Argentina had, are big stars today. They were one of the best ever Olympic football winners in history. Ezequiel Garay, Pablo Zabaleta, and Federico Fazio were the defenders you may know. Fernando Gago and Ever Banega were helping Riquelme and Mascherano in the midfield. The strikers you definitely know helpingMessi
in the front line were Sergio Agüero, Ezequiel Lavezzi, andAngel Di Maria
. It's pretty much the same players who went to the 2014 World Cup final in Brazil.
The goalkeeper position was filled by Sergi Romero. It's very rare to have this many great players under the age of 23. They collected all the points in the group stage. In the quarter finals, Argentina faced the Netherlands. Messi scored the first goal in 14' and Bakkal scored the equalizer for the Netherlands in 36'. The extra time goal scored by Di Maria was enough for Argentina to go to the next round. In the Semi-finals, the classic match between Argentina and Brazil ended 3-0 thanks to the brace Agüero scored and a penalty by Riquelme.
At the final match, Di Maria once again was the star of the match and his goal in the second half was enough to defeat Nigeria. As one of the best team in football at the summer Olympics, Argentina’s championships reached the number of their World Cup titles.
The Golden Hungary team was so good that it is worth mentioning in every historical list of the best. As the best ever Olympic football winners, the Mighty Magyars were a team Gusztáv Sebes formed as their coach. Sebes had an innovative training routine and advanced 4-2-4 formation tactics.Ferenc Puskas
and Sandor Kocsis were the two centre forwards of the legendary team. Nandor Hidegkuti worked as a deep lying centre forward. It's a role similar to the second striker thatThomas Muller
performs in Bayern Munich. Zoltan Czibor and Peter Palotas were the wingers.
When they arrive at the 1952 Olympics they were already unbeaten for two years. They started the competition with a 2-1 win overRomania
. Czibor and Kocsis were the goalscorers of the match. In the second game against Italy, Palotas scored twice in the first 20 minutes. The 83' goal from Kocsis sealed the deal with the Italians.Turkey
was trashed by Hungarians in the semi final. Magyars scored 7 goals including two braces by Puskas and Kocsis.
The next victim wasSweden
. Puskas opened the net in the first minute and Patolas doubled the lead 15 minutes later. Before the first half whistle, an own was scored by Gosta Lindh made the match 3-0. Hidegkuti and Kocsis scored 3 goals between 65' and 69'. Two by Kocsis and one from Hidegkuti. They were going to the final while they've scored 18 goals in their first five games. Yugoslavia was the final opponent in the Helsinki Olympics. Approximately 60 thousand of attendance watched the final.
The first half was goalless but in the 70' Puskas opened the Yugoslavian goal. Czibor extended the lead a couple of minutes before the final whistle. Hungarians scored 20 goals in the tournament and conceded only two goals. Their pioneer style of playing football has inspired the generations of this sport. Puskas team was truly the best Olympic football team of all time.