I MADE IT TO TOKYO! — My team-by-team Olympic soccer preview
The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, July 19, 2021 (Or July 20, 2021 if you are in Tokyo)
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Hey guys, I arrived in Tokyo. It actually wasn’t as bad as I expected: Testing, credentialing and clearing customs at the Haneda airport only took about two hours.
It’s kind of weird here right now. The streets, which you’d normally expect to be bustling in Tokyo on a Monday, were pretty empty. No traffic jams. Most places were closed.
I’m now in “soft quarantine” for the next 14 days. I’m only allowed to go to my hotel, the main media center, and my stadiums. The good news is that my hotel has a little store that’s open 24 hours if I need anything.
I’m doing something a bit different for this edition of Soccer Monday. Instead of the usual, I thought it might be helpful to have a bit of a guide to all the teams playing in the Olympics. Consider it an overview. We’ll get back to the norm next week.
World Ranking: 9
Coach: Tony Gustavsson
Qualification: AFC Olympic qualifying tournament, Australia defeated Vietnam 7-1 on aggregate to earn a berth.
Players to watch: Sam Kerr, Kyah Simon, Caitlin Foord.
What to Know: Australia opens the Olympics with New Zealand in Group G, which also includes the United States and Sweden. The Matildas lost 1-0 to Japan in an Olympic tune-up this past week in Kyoto. This is Australia’s fifth trip to the Olympics. They’ve advanced to the quarterfinals twice, including at the 2016 Games. Fourteen players from that team are on the Tokyo squad. Tony Gustavsson was named coach last September. They have not fared well so far in 2021, with four losses and a draw.
World Ranking: 7
Coach: Pia Sundhage
Qualification: 2018 Copa America winner.
Players to watch: Marta, Debinha, Ludmila.
What to Know: Brazil opens the Olympics with China in Group F, which also includes the Netherlands and Zambia. The Brazilians are 3-1-1 this year under Sundhage, with the lone loss coming to the United States in the SheBelieves Cup. Brazil has been to all seven Olympic women’s tournaments, finishing fourth in three of them, including the 2016 Games. That last one was especially heartbreaking because the team didn’t medal on home soil, falling to Canada in the bronze-medal match. Formiga is the oldest player in the tournament at 43. She has played in every Olympic tournament. A major tournament title has so far eluded Marta.
World Ranking: 8
Coach: Bev Priestman
Qualification: CONCACAF qualification tournament runner-up.
Players to watch: Christine Sinclair, Jessie Fleming, Kadeisha Buchanan
What to Know: Canada opens the Olympics with host Japan in Group E, which also includes Great Britain and Chile. This is Canada’s third trip to the Olympics, and they’ve won the bronze medal at the last two. Captain Christine Sinclair is 38, so this is likely her last Olympics, and could be her last major tournament. Sinclair, the all-time leading international scorer among women and men, is making her fourth Olympic appearance. She has appeared in 15 overall Olympic matches, scoring 11 goals – including the game winner against Brazil in 2016.
World Ranking: 37
Coach: Jose Letelier
Qualification: Downed Cameroon 2-1 in a two-legged intercontinental playoff.
Players to watch: Christiane Endler, Francisca Lara, Yanara Aedo.
What to Know: Chile opens the Olympics with a match against Great Britain in Group E. Chile wasn’t in the FIFA rankings due to inactivity just five years ago, but the team made the field for the 2019 World Cup in France. That increased both the team’s profile and the resources that the federation was willing to put into the team. Goalkeeper Christiane Endler has seen international success with Lyon. Known as La Roja, Chile is making its first Olympic appearance. The team is 1-1-2 so far in 2021.
World Ranking: 15
Coach: Jia Xiuquan
Qualification: Runner-up at the AFC qualification tournament.
Players to watch: Wang Shanshan, Wang Shuang, Zhang Xin,
What to Know: China opens with Brazil in Group F. The team is making its fifth Olympic appearance. China’s best finish was runner-up in 1996. The team made the field in Tokyo with a two-legged play-in round against South Korea, which was delayed for more than a year because of coronavirus. Wang Shanshan is the team’s top scorer, with 52 goals in 136 appearances. But the squad was largely inexperienced, only five were on the roster for the 2016 games.
World Ranking: England is 6.
Coach: Hege Riise
Qualification: Among the top three UEFA finishers at the 2019 World Cup.
Players to watch: Lucy Bronze, Ellen White, Fran Kirby
What to Know: England opens the tournament with Chile in Group E. The team is comprised mostly of English players, but two are from Scotland and one is from Wales. Team GB Olympic teams include Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland. Because all four nations must be in agreement to participate, the only other Olympics that has included a Team GB is London 2021. The current team has played just once together — a preparation match against Zambia was called off because of COVID-19 restrictions. While Riise is coaching Team GB for the Olympics, England’s squad has appointed the Netherlands’ Sarina Wiegman as coach, and she’ll lead the Lionesses in preparation for the 2021 World Cup.
World Ranking: 10
Coach: Asako Takakura
Players to watch: Mana Iwabuchi, Yuka Momiki, Saki Kumagai.
What to Know: Japan opens the Olympics with Canada in Group E. This is Japan’s fifth Olympics, the team did not make the field for Brazil in 2016. The Nadeshiko, as they’re known, won silver at the 2012 London Games. Mana Iwabuchi, who plays for Arsenal, is the team’s leading scorer with 36 goals in 78 appearances. Japan’s players are hoping for a good showing not only because they’re hosts, but because of the fall launch of the WE League, the nation’s fully professional top-tier women’s league.
World Ranking: 4
Coach: Sarina Wiegman
Qualification: Top finisher among the UEFA teams at the 2019 World Cup.
Players to watch: Vivianne Miedema, Lieke Martens, Danielle van de Donk
What to Know: The Dutch open with Zambia in Group F. The team is 4-2-0 so far this year, but a recent friendly against South Africa was cancelled because of COVID-19 restrictions. This is something of a swan song for coach Sarina Wiegman, who is going to lead England in the next World Cup cycle. Wiegman will be replaced by Portland Thorns coach Mark Parsons at the conclusion of the NWSL season. The Netherlands lost 2-0 to the United States in the 2019 World Cup final. Miedema is the all-time leading scoring in the Women’s Super League, as well as the top scorer all-time for the Netherlands.
World Ranking: 22
Coach: Tom Sermanni
Qualification: 2018 OFC Nations Cup.
Players to watch: Ali Riley, Abby Erceg, Hannah Wilkinson
What to Know: New Zealand opens with rival Australia in Group G. This is the Ferns’ fourth Olympics. They made it to the quarterfinals in London. Coach Tom Sermanni is a former coach of both the U.S. national team and the Australian national team. Veterans Abby Erceg, Ali Riley Ria Percival and Anna Green are all playing in their fourth Olympics. A good showing is important for New Zealand as the nation prepares to co-host the 2023 World Cup with Australia.
World Ranking: 5
Coach: Peter Gerhardsson
Qualification: Top three finish among UEFA teams at the 2019 World Cup.
Players to watch: Carolina Seger, Hedvig Lindahl, Kosovare Asllani
What to Know: Sweden opens the Olympics with the United States in Group G. This is Sweden’s seventh Olympics. In Brazil, the Swedes won the silver medal, losing 2-1 to Germany in the final match. Sweden got past the United States in the quarterfinals on penalties in Brasilia. That team was coached by former U.S. national team coach Pia Sundhage. Sweden is 4-0-2 this year. Caroline Seger is the most-capped player with 213 appearances, she needs one more to match Therese Sjogran on Sweden’s all-time list.
World Ranking: 1
Coach: Vlatko Andonovski
Qualification: Finished first in the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament.
Players to watch: Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn
What to Know: The United States plays Sweden to open the Olympics in Group G. The United States has four Olympic gold medals, more than any other nation, but was bounced from the 2016 tournament in Brazil by Sweden which famously parked the bus and advanced on penalties. But a lot has changed since then. Coach Jill Ellis stepped down following the 2019 World Cup victory, and Sweden coach Pia Sundhage is now coach of Brazil. The Americans are riding a 44-match winning streak and are vying to become the first team to win an Olympics following a World Cup title. Megan Rapinoe leads the U.S. with seven goals this year.
World Ranking: 104
Coach: Bruce Mwape
Qualification: Won the CAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament
Players to watch: Barbara Banda, Grace Chanda, Hellen Mubanga
What to Know: Zambia opens the Olympics with the Netherlands in Group F. This is Zambia’s first appearance in the Olympics. Zambia has played just once this year, a friendly with South Africa. The team’s scheduled tune-up match with Great Britain ahead of Tokyo was called off because of COVID-19 restrictions. The team is known as the Copper Queens.