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Pedri, Dani Alves and 20 players to watch in the Olympic men's football at Tokyo 2020

3:00 AM EDT 7/21/21
Pedri Dani Alves GFX
Whether they are established names, future stars or summer transfer targets, there are a host of intriguing players in action at the Games in Japan

While mention of the Olympics might not spark up images of great football, the men's tournament at the Games still offers those who compete for the rare opportunity to take home a gold medal.

Ahead of Tokyo 2020, the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Mohamed Salah and Sergio Ramos were all rumoured to be interested in taking part in a bid to claim one of the greatest sporting prizes of them all.

In the end, none of that fabled trio will be in action over the next fortnight, but that does not mean there are not plenty of players who are worth keeping an eye on, be they established stars, up-and-coming wonderkids or potential transfer targets for some of the world's biggest clubs...

  • Thiago Almada Argentina 2021

    Thiago Almada (Argentina)

    Given the hype that has surrounded Almada in recent years, it is quite surprising that the attacking midfielder still finds himself at Velez Sarsfield rather than in one of Europe's top five leagues.

    Manchester City and Manchester United are among a host of clubs to have been linked with the 20-year-old, who twice appeared on Goal's NXGN list of the top teenage footballers in the world.

    Expect him to use the Olympics as a potential shop window to show himself off to potential suitors ahead of the transfer window closing at the end of August.

  • Dani Alves Brazil

    Dani Alves (Brazil)

    Despite having turned 38 in May, Dani Alves still harbours hopes of representing Brazil at the 2022 World Cup, and as such is using the Olympics, in part, to show Selecao boss Tite that he is worth a place in his squad for Qatar.

    Now playing his club football for Sao Paulo FC, the veteran full-back continues to showcase his undoubted quality on a weekly basis domestically, and, though he might not be the same electric presence on the right-hand side as he was at Barcelona, he can still play a key role in Brazil defending the gold medal they won on home soil back in 2016.

  • Marco Asensio Spain 2021

    Marco Asensio (Spain)

    If you had asked a Spanish football fan which tournament Marco Asensio would be playing in this summer a few years ago, they undoubtedly would have said Euro 2020, such was the winger's potential and performance level at Real Madrid.

    Injuries and a subsequent drop in form, however, mean he now finds himself needing to prove himself in Tokyo if he is to fight his way back into Luis Enrique's exciting, young, attacking team.

    At 25, time is starting to run out for Asensio to make a return on the promise he showed as a youngster, and there is no better place to start than at the biggest festival of sport in the world. 

  • Dani Ceballos Spain 2021

    Dani Ceballos (Spain)

    Another Real Madrid player looking to reignite their career somewhat is Ceballos, who, after two up-and-down seasons on loan at Arsenal, is now preparing himself for a new challenge.

    Unlike Asensio, his future almost certainly lies away from Santiago Bernabeu, and as such the Olympics offers the 24-year-old midfielder an opportunity to show any interested clubs that he is still the same player who was named in back-to-back Teams of the Tournament at the 2017 and 2019 Under-21 European Championships.

  • Matheus Cunha Hertha Berlin 2020-21

    Matheus Cunha (Brazil)

    Though Cunha may not be one of the more well-known names in Brazil's Olympic squad, he is one of the prime candidates to have a real breakout tournament on the world stage.

    The Hertha Berlin forward, who can play anywhere across the frontline, has earned himself a reputation in the Bundesliga as having an eye for the spectacular after netting a series of superb individual strikes.

    That has seen him earn transfer links with Premier League clubs, including Leeds United, though Hertha have reportedly slapped a €40 million (£34.5m/$47m) price tag on the 22-year-old attacker.

  • Amad Diallo Manchester United GFX

    Amad Diallo (Cote d'Ivoire)

    With Jadon Sancho set to complete his move to Manchester United in the coming days, Amad will be keen to show Ole Gunnar Solskjaer what he can on the biggest stage when he takes to the field at the Olympics.

    The teenager struggled for opportunities during his first few months at Old Trafford, but he has shone for Cote d'Ivoire since making his international bow in March, and scored his first goal for his country with a brilliant free-kick in June.

    He is joined in the Elephants' squad by club-mate Eric Bailly, but most United fans will be tracking the progress of the flying winger rather than their back-up central defender.

  • Andre-Pierre Gignac France 2021

    Andre-Pierre Gignac (France)

    When France's original squad for the Olympics was announced, it contained a number of eye-catching names, including Eduardo Camavinga, William Saliba and Amine Gouiri.

    But after a host of clubs blocked their players from taking part, a much less experienced roster was put together, which will likely hurt the team's chances of medalling.

    One player who was named in the original squad and will take part is veteran striker Gignac, who will be relied upon to provide the goals upfront after his prolific spell at Mexican outfit Tigres.

    His new club-mate, Florian Thauvin, is also in the France squad, with the ex-Marseille duo likely to come under plenty of attention from opposition defenders.

  • Bryan Gil Spain 2021

    Bryan Gil (Spain)

    Given his performances on loan at Eibar in La Liga last season, Gil was already a player to watch at this tournament when Spain's squad was originally announced.

    But after it broke on Tuesday that Tottenham were in talks to bring the Sevilla winger to north London in a deal worth £25m ($34m) plus Erik Lamela, there are set to be even more eyes on the 20-year-old.

    Something of a throwback with long, indie-band-esque hair and mazy dribbling style, Gil is a player who gets fans off their seats, and Spurs supporters in particular will be keen to see him in action over the next two weeks. 

  • Max Kruse Union Berlin 2021-22

    Max Kruse (Germany)

    Kruse has enjoyed a colourful career both on and off the field, and so adding the rarest of football prizes, an Olympic gold medal, to his collection should not be ruled out.

    The 33-year-old striker is coming off a season where his goals fired Union Berlin to their first European qualification for 20 years, and he will spearhead a squad predominantly made up of players from some of Germany's less fashionable clubs, meaning his experience and leadership will be vital.

  • Take Kubo Japan 2021

    Takefusa Kubo (Japan)

    After enjoying a breakout campaign on loan at Mallorca in 2019-20, last season Kubo struggled at both Villarreal and Getafe, meaning he comes into the Olympics under something of a cloud in terms of his form.

    Despite that, the Real Madrid starlet is the poster boy for the host nation's team, with the winger expected to carry much of the attacking burden due to his undubted talent.

    The ex-Barcelona trainee would love nothing more than to claim a gold medal on home soil before returning to Spain, where he looks set to be loaned out once more.

  • Diego Lainez Mexico 2021

    Diego Lainez (Mexico)

    Two years ago, Lainez was being tipped for huge things in Mexico after completing his much-talked about move to Europe having joined Real Betis from Club America.

    Things, though, have not gone to plan for the 21-year-old playmaker, who despite playing more games season-on-season in Spain, is predominantly a bit-part player for the Liga outfit.

    As such, the Olympics offers Lainez the chance to recapture the spark that saw him stand out as a teenager and prove that he is not destined to be a failed wonderkid.

  • Lee Kang-in South Korea 2021

    Lee Kang-in (South Korea)

    The Golden Ball winner at the 2019 U20 World Cup despite being just 18 at the time, Lee has not quite kicked on as he would have hoped in the two years since.

    Valencia were expected to build their new-look team around the attacking midfielder, but Lee has struggled for consistency at Mestalla, while a lack of discipline has also let him down at times.

    There is no doubting the 20-year-old's talent, though, and the Olympics offers him another opportunity to impress at another age-group tournament.

  • Alexis Mac Allister Argentina 2021

    Alexis Mac Allister (Argentina)

    One of a host of highly-talented young players to have been signed by Brighton since their promotion to the Premier League, Mac Allister is yet to quite show his true potential for the Seagulls.

    For Argentina's Olympic team, though, the 22-year-old is key, dictating play from midfield while also providing the odd spectacular shot from distance that have a habit of ending up in the back of the opposition's net.

  • Gabriel Menino Palmeiras 2021

    Gabriel Menino (Brazil)

    It is not normal for a player to be compared to both Yaya Toure and Dani Alves, but that is exactly what makes Menino so special.

    Notionally a box-to-box midfielder for club side Palmeiras, the 21-year-old has also impressed while filling in at right-back, leading to some debating whether playing out wide might actually be his best position.

    That versatility combined with Menino's talent has seen him linked with a host of top clubs, including Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham.

  • Dani Olmo Spain

    Dani Olmo (Spain)

    Eyebrows were raised when Spain named their Olympic squad, with as many as six players who represented them at Euro 2020 selected to now travel to Tokyo in pursuit of a gold medal.

    It was not just squad players either, with the likes of Unai Simon, Mikel Oyarzabal and Olmo in the travelling party heading to the Games.

    Olmo, in particular, impressed for La Roja during their run to the semi-finals of the Euros, with his willingness to play either out wide or through the middle likely to be key as long as the RB Leipzig man has the enerrgy to spare after his summer exertions.

  • Pedri Spain 2021

    Pedri (Spain)

    After playing 52 of Barcelona's 54 games in his first top-flight season, followed by all but one minute of Spain's six Euro 2020 matches, it would have been fair for the Spanish Football Federation to give Pedri a rest ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.

    Instead, the European Championship's Young Player of the Tournament will now be expected to pick up where he left off in Japan, with the 18-year-old likely to be again tasked with pulling the strings from midfield.

    Singled out as a youngster for his boundless energy, Pedri will need to dig deep into his reserves if Spain do advance to the latter stages or risk suffering from burnout before his career has even got properly going.

  • Richarlison Brazil 2021

    Richarlison (Brazil)

    Another player who has already featured at a summer tournament this year is Richarlison, who played his part in Brazil's run to the Copa America final on home soil.

    The Everton forward, however, did not feature anywhere near as much as some of his Spanish counterparts did in the Euros, and as such should be relatively fresh to help lead the line for the Selecao.

    Having been linked with Real Madrid already this summer, there is a chance that a strong showing from the 24-year-old Everton star could see him become a late-window target for a number of elite clubs.

  • Takehiro Tomiyasu Japan 2021

    Takehiro Tomiyasu (Japan)

    Tomiyasu might not be the most recognisable name on this list, but with a big-money move to Tottenham seemingly in the pipeline for after the Games, the defender's standing is only set to grow.

    Having impressed in Serie A for Bologna, the 22-year-old has shown he can play at either centre-back or right-back during his time in Italy, and is set for a key role for the hosts during the coming weeks.

  • Pau Torres Spain 2021

    Pau Torres (Spain)

    Another of those who played at Euro 2020, Torres will likely partner Eric Garcia in defence in Japan, meaning Spain have arguably the strongest squad from back to front on paper heading into the competition.

    After being a rock for Villarreal in their run to winning the Europa League, it is still expected that the 24-year-old gets caught up in the centre-back transfer merry-go-round that could still dominate the late weeks of the window, even if reports of interest from Manchester United and Real Madrid have diminished in recent weeks.

  • Chris Wood New Zealand 2021

    Chris Wood (New Zealand)

    Though he might not be the sexiest name on the list, there is no doubt that a tournament filled with centre-backs in their early-20s, a player with the experience and nous of Wood has the potential to be a real threat.

    Much will depend on whether the Burnley striker receives any service from his New Zealand team-mates, with the Oceania representatives one of the competition's underdogs.

    But with a proven Premier League goalscorer in their ranks, they could yet spring a surprise.