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Rio Olympics 2016: How the Football tournament works, how to qualify, squad selection process

The countdown to the 2016 Rio Olympics begins; let's take a look at how the whole football show will work in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

rio olympics 2016 brazil football
The Rio 2016 Olympics football championship will be a veritable feast amongst the numerous global sports on show

After the breath-taking Copa America Centenario 2016 and the on-going UEFA Euro 2016 of the underdogs, the off-season football this summer has been a real treat – but it’s not over yet! In just about a month, we’re moving onto the planet’s biggest sporting event – the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

There is simply no break from top-level football this summer; with so many continental championships taking place this year, the Olympics will get to boast some of the biggest names in football. The hosts (Brazil) suffered an ignominious exit at the Copa America without their talisman Neymar, but he is just one of the huge names that will be playing at the flagship sporting event of the ages.

With Lionel Messi controversially retiring from international football after suffering a 3rd heartbreak in his 3rd consecutive final with Argentina, they will be eager to prove a point. So before all the action kicks off, let’s take a quick look at how football has taken over yet another major sporting calendar – how does the Olympics football championship really work?

Also Read : List of participating teams in football and their road to qualification

Rio Olympics 2016: How the football tournament works

This year’s Olympics will feature over 10,500 of the planet’s very best athletes playing 28 sports (including rugby and golf, which are new at this level – but we know you’re not interested in all of them. After all, football “is much more than” life or death, as Liverpool legend Bill Shankly so famously put it. It’s been around in various different forms over the hundreds of years that the Olympics have been played, but it was in 1900 that it was added to the Summer Olympics roster in the form we know it as today. 

Although Rio De Janeiro is the host city for the Olympics, it will not be the only city in Brazil to hold football matches – making it quite exclusive amongst all sports (after all, it is the most watched sport on the planet). Brasilia, Manaus, Salvador and Belo Horizonte will all make their stadia available for people from around the globe to watch their nations strutting their stuff in Brazil – kind of like the 2014 World Cup in that sense!

16 male teams and 12 female teams from different countries in every continent will be competing for the shiny golden, silver and bronze medals on offer at the football championships. Over 400 footballs are currently being pumped and readied for some of the world’s up-and-coming superstars to dribble their way to glory at the biggest sporting event the planet can offer. 

As is footballing tradition, the nations will be split up into groups of 4 countries (3 groups for women and 4 for men), from which the top two will qualify. From then on, it’s straight-up knockout action, as we jump straight into the quarter-finals, semis and the grand final in the Maracana Stadium on the 19th and 20th of August (for women and men respectively). That’s the very same stadium that hosted the World Cup final between Germany & Argentina in 2014!

Rio Olympics 2016: How do teams qualify for it?

One of the biggest differences between the Olympics and FIFA-organized competitions is that these ones don’t go through a lengthy, dreary qualification process that interrupts our whole footballing club season about 7 times, just when your club team is picking up form. 

It’s a match-up between the best teams from every continent at the respective qualification levels – how do we figure that out? It’s simple – organize a footballing tournament and the 4 or 5 best teams compete in the next Olympics! FIFA & the IOC (International Olympic Comittee) ratified the number of berths to be granted to each continent a couple of years before the Olympiads. From the 6 continents with teams to field, this is how we pick them:

Men’s Qualification Process (Olympic Berths):

Host Country: 1

South America – 2015 South American Youth Championships: 1

Africa – 2015 Africa U-23 Cup of Nations: 3

Europe – 2015 UEFA European Under-21 Championship: 2

Americas (all)  – 2016 CONCACAF – CONMEBOL play-off: 1

Oceania – 2015 Pacific Games: 1

North America – 2015 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship: 2

Asia – 2016 AFC U-23 Championship: 2

Women’s Qualification Process (Olympic Berths):

Host Country: 1

South America – 2014 Copa America: 1

Africa – 2015 CAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament: 2

Europe – 2015 FIFA World Cup: 2

Europe – 2016 UEFA Olympic Qualifying Tournament: 1

Oceania – 2016 OFC Olympic Qualifying Tournament: 1

North America – 2016 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament: 2

Asia – 2016 AFC Olympic Qualifying Tournament: 2

Read More: Rio Olympics 2016 – How did every country qualify?

Rio Olympics 2016: What are the squad rules?

If you’re new to the Olympics football section, then you might’ve made a double-take at the qualification process above – yes, there’s a good reason why. Since we all love the World Cup and it’s FIFA that organizes that, the two sporting committees have had to come to some kind of agreement.

After all, the players are human, and in years where the two events clash, it would be nonsense to force players to play back-to back world football championships, right? To that end, teams have been given the right to pick any 18 players as long as they adhere to certain restrictions, which have been relaxed on the ladies game. For men, though, they do apply.

- All players must be 23 years old or under

- Only 3 over-age players can be picked in any squad

Although many feel it slightly diminishes the sheen of the whole thing, it’s also a brilliant opportunity for brilliant young talents to showcase their skills on a global platform at a tournament of the utmost importance. A World Cup medal is legendary, but an Olympic medal survives through the ages. Which youngsters wouldn’t want a crack at that?

To even be in contention, they’ve had to get through their respective continental football tournaments. It’s not a youth tournament – it’s the future of global football proving what all the hype was all about, and a shot at redemption for those who didn’t make it all way.

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