Tokyo 2020 men’s football: The story behind the numbers

Tokyo 2020 takes a look at the stories hiding behind the stats from the Men’s Football Tournament, won for the second time – and second time in a row – by Brazil.

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Football remains the world’s most popular sport, and one charmingly impervious to the influence of statistical analysis. And while the hard numbers can be dull, they do hide some intriguing stories. Join Tokyo 2020 for a lighthearted look at the secrets behind some of the numbers of the Tokyo 2020 (in 2021) Men’s Olympic Football Tournament.

93 – The number of goals scored in the 32 games of the Tokyo 2020 (in 2021) men’s tournament is still some way off the torrid pace set by the women (a record 101 goals in 26 games). But it was still a wildly attack-minded competition that saw close to three goals scored per game on average.

READ | The Story Behind the Numbers (Women’s Edition)

5 – Eventual champions Brazil gave a hint of their ambitions on opening day when their star striker Richarlison (of English Premier League side Everton) scored a hat-trick in a thrilling 4-2 win over the Germans.

He would go on to score two more goals and finish the competition as its lone top-scorer (with five), joining a star-studded list of immortals to have led the line for Brazil at an Olympic Games – including Romario, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Bebeto and, of course, 2016 superstar Neymar Jr.

READ | Richarlison Trades Rio Tears for Tokyo Glory

2 – The Olympic gold was the second medal Richarlison picked up in what was a busy summer for the target-man. And his joy after the victorious extra-time final with Spain in Yokohama was the perfect illustration of the fine margins at work in the world of top-level international football.

His bitter tears from the Copa America loss to rivals Argentina (where Richarlison wore the No7 shirt as no one takes the No10 off Neymar Jr. these days) turned to tears of joy in Yokohama, where he seemed best-pleased with the look of gold around his neck compared to silver in Rio de Janeiro a few weeks earlier.

"Next year it's going to be the World Cup [at Qatar 2022)," Richarlison told FIFA President Gianni Infantino after receiving his gold medal -- clearly still hungry for more hardware.

Another 2 worth considering is that the 2020 gold medal is the second on the trot for Brazil. Despite all their successes in South American continental competition and the World Cup, the Brazilians failed to win out at an Olympic Football Tournament for over 100 years since its birth in Athens in 1896.

Brazil, having gone back-to-back for gold in the last two editions, now join the exclusive club of Great Britain (1908 and 1912), Uruguay (1924 and 1928), Hungary (1964 and 1968) and Argentina (2004 and 2008) as the only teams to rule with a golden Olympic fist for eight straight years.

FLASHBACK | The Last Charge of Hungary’s Magical Magyars | Uruguay's Two-Timers

38 – And while we’re on the topic of medals, it’s well worth noting the incredible achievement of Brazilian captain Dani Alves. Donning a Brazilian Olympic shirt for the first time, the 38-year-old icon was far from blasé about joining up with a youthful team in the middle of a summer that could have otherwise been spent sunbathing.

His tears during the playing of the Brazilian anthem before the opening game here in Japan confirm what we’ve always known about the former Barcelona star: He’s all heart.

The Olympic gold medal he and his mates picked up after the final on 7 August in Yokohama was a rare missing piece in Alves’ trophy collection. He adds it to his Champions Leagues (three), Copas America and more La Liga crowns than warrant counting. Still hungry as he approaches 40 years of age, could these Olympic Games fire the aging wing-back on to the still-missing trinket of a FIFA World Cup winners’ medal?

“In life you have to set yourself big targets and go after them,” Alves said with a gold medal around his neck and looking ahead to next year's World Cup. “You may achieve them, you may not, but if I don’t go to the World Cup I can absolutely promise it won’t be for lack of trying.”

READ | 43 Crowns for King Dani Alves | Brazil Claim Second Straight Gold

73 – is the number of games played by Spain’s young sensation Pedri in club and international football this term. A budding star for Spanish club side Barcelona, he fulfilled a lifelong dream of swapping shirts with club legend Dani Alves after losing in the Olympic final and having to settle for silver.

It’s unlikely Pedri will get much chance for a rest, either, as 2008 Olympic gold-medallist Leonel Messi’s sudden departure from Barcelona means the teenager will be thrust into an even brighter corner of the spotlight as the new season is set to begin in Spain.

Busy as he’s bound to be, Pedri can take his Olympic memories with him. “I have been able to meet many athletes like Pau Gasol [Spain’s star basketball player],” he said of his trip to the Olympic Village in Tokyo. “And also [I got to] play with the Spanish table tennis players, which I love. It’s an experience that I will never forget."

READ | Pedri – “Everything That’s Happening is Crazy”

6 – Pedri was one of a raft of six Spanish players that took part in both the senior UEFA EURO earlier in the summer and the Olympic Games, including No1 goalkeeper Unai Simon, Dani Olmo, Pau Torres and Mikel Oyarzabel -- who scored a sensational goal in the 1-2 extra-time loss to Brazil in the final.

After a semifinal run at the EURO and a step further to earn silver here in Japan, the vague laws of natural progression might see a top-of-the-podium spot hiding right around the corner at the next major tournament for this ever-evolving Spain squad?

That tournament just so happens to be the 2022 World Cup in Qatar…

8 – Mexico will also have an eye on the horizon, and next year’s World Cup, which would be their eighth on the trot. The bronze medal they earned here in Japan will do their hopes and enthusiasms no harm when qualifying begins.

With the likes of Diego Lainez, Uriel Antuna, Alexis Vega and Sebastian Cordova (who scored four to finish second in the charts at Tokyo 2020) all showing style and strength throughout the competition, El Tri will, as ever, be firm favourites to come through the CONCACAF qualifying competition on top and be a part of the world finals when action kicks off in Qatar.

And in that team, who will aim to go beyond the Round of 16 for the first time in 32 years, you’ll be sure to find some of the budding stars who shone so bright here on the fields in Japan.

Mexico’s bronze is their second-ever Olympic football medal (to go alongside the gold they won in 2012 by shocking Brazil).

READ | Luis Romo EXCLUSIVE Interview | Mexico Best Japan for Bronze

4 – Fourth at an Olympics is a painful place to be. Yes, you managed to get achingly close. But, in the end, there you are, off on the grass beside the podium and left only with the questions: How much more could we have done? How close were we?

Hosts Japan would do well to banish such questions as their performances here on home soil were outstanding throughout the competition. With a lively team, led by the precocious talents of budding 20-year-old superstar KUBO Takefusa, signs are positive for the future.

5 – And, finally, in a moment of brilliant Olympic symmetry, it’s worth taking a look at the quarterfinal line-up of this men’s Olympic football tournament. All five continental zones considered for competition were represented in the last eight – a footballing illustration of the Olympic rings themselves.

From Oceania (of the South Seas) was New Zealand, punching above their weight. Côte d'Ivoire and Egypt came from Africa. Mexico carried the banner from North America. Spain was the lone standard-bearer from Europe, while Asia were well represented by hosts Japan and the Republic of Korea.

Eventual champions Brazil led from South America – and all the way to a deserved place atop the podium reserved only for champions.

Brazil v Spain: Gold Medal Match Men's Football - Olympics: Day 15
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

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