Wednesday, 24 Jul 2024

Olympic Soccer Tournaments: How Men’s and Women’s Football Competitions Work in Tokyo

olympic soccer rules

The Olympic football tournaments, both men’s and women’s, are highly anticipated events in the world of soccer. These competitions follow a similar structure, but there are some key differences. Let’s take a closer look at how these tournaments work in Tokyo.

Qualifying and Group Draw

Participating nations must qualify for the Olympic soccer tournament through their respective regions. Each region has its own qualification process. Once the teams have qualified, they are divided into different groups through a random seeded draw. The competition schedule is predetermined before the draw takes place.

Roster Selection and Tournament Phases

Each national team head coach selects 22 players to compete at the Olympics, following the Olympic roster rules. Once the teams arrive at the Olympics, the tournament is divided into two phases: the group stage and the knockout stage.

Group Stage

In the group stage, each team plays three matches in a round-robin format. Only eight teams advance from the group stage to the knockout rounds.

Knockout Stage

The knockout stage includes single-elimination quarterfinals, semifinals, and the two medal matches. The semifinal losers compete for the bronze medal, while the semifinal winners face off in the gold/silver medal match.

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olympic soccer

How Many Teams Qualify?

As of 2021, the men’s Olympic soccer tournament consists of 16 teams, while the women’s tournament includes 12 teams. Men’s soccer has been a part of every summer Olympics, whereas women’s soccer was introduced in 1996.

The women’s competition started with eight teams in 1996 and gradually expanded to 12 teams in 2008. Considering the rapid growth of women’s soccer worldwide, an expansion to 16 teams in the future seems likely.

Olympics vs. World Cup

The FIFA World Cups for both men and women involve the best teams with their best players after rigorous qualifying competitions. In contrast, the Olympics don’t host every national team, ensuring that they don’t overshadow the World Cup’s prestige.

Moreover, in men’s Olympic soccer, FIFA and the International Olympic Committee restrict participation to players under 24 years old, with just three over-23 selections allowed per roster. It’s also not mandatory for club teams to release players for the Olympic tournament. On the other hand, the women’s Olympic soccer tournament features full senior national teams without age restrictions.

How Do Nations Qualify for Olympic Soccer?

Qualification rules vary by region. In Europe, for example, the top finishers in the men’s Under-21 European Championship secure the four European berths, while the top European finishers at the FIFA Women’s World Cup earn the three berths for the women’s Olympic tournament.

Here’s a breakdown of qualifying berths for Tokyo 2021:

Region Men’s Olympic Berths Women’s Olympic Berths
Africa 3 1.5
Asia 3 2
Europe 4 3
Oceania 1 1
South America 2 1.5
North America 2 2
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Additionally, the host nation, Japan, automatically qualifies for both the men’s and women’s tournaments.

Rules and Tournament Format

FIFA oversees both the men’s and women’s Olympic soccer tournaments, resulting in similarities with the World Cup and other international competitions. During the group stage, teams earn points for wins and draws. Tiebreakers determine the rankings within a group.

Eight teams progress to the single-elimination knockout stages, consisting of quarterfinals, semifinals, and the final matches for the gold/silver and bronze medals.


What happens if an Olympic soccer match ends in a tie?

During the group stage, a draw after 90 minutes results in one point for each team. In the knockout rounds, matches that end in a tie after 90 minutes go into 30 minutes of extra time, followed by a penalty shootout if the draw persists.

Where can I find more information about the Olympic soccer rules?

For comprehensive details about the rules, you can refer to the official FIFA publication, which provides an in-depth understanding of all aspects of the Olympic soccer tournaments.


The Olympic soccer tournaments in Tokyo are highly anticipated events that bring together top teams from around the world. As the men’s and women’s competitions unfold, football enthusiasts worldwide will be treated to a showcase of talent, skill, and fierce competition. Make sure to stay updated with the latest results and enjoy the beautiful game!