Even with Brazil as favorite, the men’s Olympic soccer tournament is wide open

For the second-straight Games, the United States missed out on the fun (and U-23 developmental opportunities) of Olympic soccer.

But for soccer fans, there are still plenty of reasons to watch. Can Neymar lead Brazil to its first Olympic gold medal? Or will Argentina, sans Lionel Messi, or Germany spoil the fun?

Here’s a look at each of the 16 teams:



Odds to win (intertops.eu): 2-1

Player to watch: Neymar, who was held out of the Copa America Centenario, is the man charged with winning an elusive gold medal for the host nation. He’s easily the poster boy for this tournament.

Outlook: It’s all or nothing for manager Rodrigo Micale, who has a bevy of talented youngsters at his disposal. As usual, ability won’t be the issue for the host nation. The ability to see things through late in an Olympic tournament will be the question.


Odds to win: 20-1

Player to watch: Fulham midfielder Lasse Vigen Christensen has captained the Danish U-21 side, and hopes to lead his country to a surprise run at a medal.

Outlook: Denmark isn’t the most talented team in the field, but there should be more than enough punch to get out of Group A.

South Africa

Odds to win: 50-1

Player to watch: Itumeleng Khune, the Kaiser Chiefs keeper, has been handed the captain’s armband for this event. His inclusion wasn’t entirely popular, so he’ll need a good tournament to beat back the critics.

Outlook: This team, minus the overage players, finished third in the CAF qualifying tournament. That feels like a good bet for this group, too.


Odds to win: 100-1

Player to watch: Left back Dhurgham Ismail is heading to Turkey to play for Rizespor. He’s only 21, but don’t be surprised if most of Iraq’s forays into the attacking third come from his flank.

Outlook: There’s talent here, but compared to the rest of the group, it’s hard to like Iraq’a chances of reaching the knockout round.


Group B


Odds to win: 16-1

Player to watch: Overage striker Teofilo Gutierrez (Sporting) brings experience, swagger and goals to the starting 11.

Outlook: Colombia was the team that denied the U.S. an Olympic bid in the playoff, so feel free to ponder what might have been as you watch them. Injuries have probably hit the South American side hard enough to keep them off the podium, but winning Group B is within their reach.


Odds to win: 20-1

Player to watch: Azubuike Okechukwu was the player of the tournament in African qualifying for this event, and the Super Eagles will need his considerable midfield talents to shine in this event.

Outlook: Nigeria has a history of producing talented, entertaining youth sides. They’ll need this side to live up to that standard, because Group B is the “Group of Death.”


Odds to win: 22-1

Player to watch: Center back Alexander Milosevic (Besiktas) adds experience and ability to the back line. He’s a strong choice for an overage player.

Outlook: The reigning U-21 champions of Europe wound up in the toughest group. Should they survive the opening round, a medal run isn’t out of the question.


Odds to win: 33-1

Player to watch: It has to be forward Takuma Asano, who’s on the books at Arsenal. This will be his first chance to impress his new fans.

Outlook: The U-21 champions of Asia will be hoping to make a run at a medal in Brazil after just missing out on bronze in 2012. Getting out of this group may prove to be a greater challenge.


Group C


Odds to win: 11-2

Player to watch: They’re twins, so you can’t separate them. Lars and Sven Bender bring senior team experience and talent to the midfield for Die Mannschaft.

Outlook: It’s amazing that Germany hasn’t played in the Olympics since 1988. This is a side with enough ability to make the return a memorable one.


Odds to win: 16-1

Player to watch: Winger Hirving Lozano figures to be the next Mexican player to cross the Atlantic to ply his trade in Europe. Until then, the Pachuca man will look to power his country in Brazil.

Outlook: The reigning Olympic champions may not have the senior overage players their fan wanted (Javier Hernandez, for one), but the Mexicans are still a threat to repeat as gold medalists.

South Korea

Odds to win: 40-1

Player to watch: Tottenham’s Son Heung-min is a nice overage choice, and he’ll need to provide some punch for his country to get out of this group.

Outlook: The 2012 bronze medalists will need to upset either Germany or Mexico to reach the knockout round.


Odds to win: 1000-1

Player to watch: Wellington Phoenix striker Roy Krishna will need to provide a goal or two for Fiji to notch any points.

Outlook: Fiji is easily the weakest team in the field, but it’s one that will provide plenty of those nice Olympic stories that NBC always serves up for TV viewers.


Group D


Odds to win: 5-1

Player to watch: Look for Atletico Madrid’s Angel Correa to provide the attacking spark for a side that’s a little short on name recognition, but long on potential.

Outlook: With the frustration of getting players released for the Games, and the brief idea of not sending a team at all, behind them, Argentina will try to find its way to the podium.


Odds to win: 10-1

Player to watch: Bruno Fernandes has Serie A experience and serves as the captain. As good as he is, Portugal could have made better use of its overage selections

Outlook: No one gave the senior side much of a chance to win Euro 2016, and we know how that turned out. Still, in a weak group, Portugal should reach the final eight without much difficulty.


Odds to win: 40-1

Player to watch: Midfielder Rachid Ait-Atmane has experience in La Liga and is easily the biggest name in this side.

Outlook: Things would have been more interesting if Riyad Mahrez would have been one of the overage choices. As it stands, getting out of the group would be a real achievement.


Odds to win: 100-1

Player to watch: Alberth Elis, who had two goals against the United States in qualifying, is drawing interest from European sides. Honduras will need his eye for goal to pull an upset or two in this event.

Outlook: Bet against a team managed by Jose Luis Pinto (the hero of Costa Rica’s last World Cup run) at your own peril. They’re underdogs, but Pinto always has a trick or two up his sleeve.

About Randy Capps

South Carolina native, Fulham apologist, writer and sports fanatic.