Soccer at the Tokyo Olympics: What to Know for 2021


The Tokyo Olympics have arrived after a year-long postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Olympic soccer, which was first introduced at the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris, can be one of the most fun and entertaining events at the Games. 

The U.S. men’s soccer team failed to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics for a third consecutive time, and have missed four of the past five Games. Thankfully, the United States women’s national soccer team are reigning FIFA World Cup champions and are the favorite to claim their fifth gold medal in Tokyo. 

There is so much to look forward to this summer, so here’s everything you need to know about Olympic soccer. 

What are the rules for Olympic soccer?

Same as regular soccer — each team has 11 players, 10 field players and a goalkeeper. A game consists of two 45-minute periods with a 15-minute halftime. 

When are the men and women’s Olympic soccer tournaments?

Olympic soccer tournaments traditionally start before the Opening Ceremony, and this year’s no different.

The U.S. women’s team is competing in Group G. It will face Sweden at 4:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday, July 21. The U.S. will then face New Zealand at 7:30 a.m. ET on July 24 and will close out the group stage at 4 a.m. on July 27 against Australia.

The knockout stage will begin on June 30, and conclude in Tokyo for the gold medal match on Aug. 6. 

The men’s Olympic tournament begins at 3:30 a.m. ET on July 22, and the group stage continues July 25 and 28. The knockout stage will kick off at 4 a.m. ET on July 31 and concludes at the International Stadium Yokohama for the gold medal match on Aug. 7. 


Where are the Olympic soccer tournaments being played?

A total of seven venues will be used for the men’s and women’s Olympics soccer teams.

The U.S. women’s team will play their group games at three different stadiums: first at Tokyo Stadium; then at Saitama Stadium, which is just about 18 miles north of Tokyo; and finally at the Ibaraki Kashima Stadium in Kashima, which is on the coast of Japan about 70 miles northeast of Tokyo.

Other cities that will host tournaments during the games are Chofu, Yokohama and Rifu.

Who is on the United States women’s national soccer team?

Goalkeepers (2): Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns FC), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders (6): Abby Dahlkemper (Manchester City/ENG), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC), Kelley O’Hara (Washington Spirit), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC), Emily Sonnett (Washington Spirit)

Midfielders (5): Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign), Kristie Mewis (Houston Dash), Samantha Mewis (North Carolina Courage)

Forwards (5): Tobin Heath (Unattached), Carli Lloyd (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Unattached), Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)

What are the groups for the Olympic soccer tournaments in 2021?

Sixteen teams will compete in the men’s tournament and for now there is no clear-cut favorite for the Tokyo Games. Brazil won the most recent gold medal in Rio. 

Of the 12 teams in the women’s draw, the U.S. — who leads the FIFA world rankings — is favored to win its fifth gold after failing to medal in 2016 after a disappointing loss to Sweden. 

Men’s draw

Group A: Japan, South Africa, Mexico, France

Group B: New Zealand, South Korea, Honduras, Romania

Group C: Egypt, Spain, Argentina, Australia

Group D: Brazil, Germany, Côte d’Ivoire, Saudi Arabia

Women’s draw

Group E: Japan, Canada, Great Britain, Chile

Group F: China, Brazil, Zambia, Netherlands

Group G: Sweden, United States, Australia, New Zealand

How is the Olympic soccer tournament different from World Cup soccer?

For starters, there are 32 teams at the men’s World Cup, and the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup will also have 32 teams (up from 24 in 2019).

Countries that participate in the World Cup send rosters of 23 players, but only 18 players are allowed on a team’s roster at the Olympics.

Unlike the Olympics, the World Cup has the ability to host its women’s tournament one calendar year after the men’s tournament so there’s no interference with viewership.

There are no age restrictions at the men’s or women’s World Cup or on women’s teams at the Olympics. However, men’s teams at the Olympics must have at least 20 players who are 23 years old or younger, with only three players allowed to be older than 23.


FIFA announced that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020: players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three overage exceptions. Therefore, players who were born in 1997 won’t be disqualified because of the Olympics being delayed a year.