Soccer, also known as football in many countries, is one of the most popular Olympic sports. It takes place every four years during the Summer Olympics and has both men’s and women’s competitions. Read below for more information about each competition’s origins and competition format.
Men’s Soccer at the Olympics
Men’s soccer was first played as an Olympic sport at the 1900 Games in Paris. The men’s tournament at the Olympics starts with a group stage consisting of 16 teams. These national teams are pre-qualified through tournaments in their continent of origin. In four groups of four, these national teams compete against one another in a round-robin style.
The top two teams from each group then enter a knockout stage. Each of these teams competes in a quarterfinal match. The winner of each quarterfinal match then competes in a semifinal match. The losers of the semifinal matches compete for the bronze medal. The two winners of the semifinal matches compete in a final match. The loser of the finals match receives the silver medal while the winner receives the gold medal.
Unlike other major international tournaments, men’s soccer at the Olympics has age restrictions. Only three players on the team’s 18-man roster can be over the age of 23 at the start of the Olympic Games. This was put into place so the Olympics would not draw away attention from the FIFA World Cup.
Women’s Soccer at the Olympics
Women’s soccer was first played in the Olympics at the 1996 Games in Atlanta and is played every four years at the Summer Olympics. The women’s tournament, despite being relatively new, has been extremely popular worldwide. Twelve teams play in the women’s tournament and qualify through continental tournaments. Women’s soccer at the Olympics, unlike men’s soccer, does not have any age restrictions.
The twelve teams are separated into three groups of four for the group stage. Each team in the group plays each other once, receiving three points for a win, one point for a draw, and no points for a loss. Once the teams have played each other once, the group stage is over. The top two teams in each group and the two best third-place teams move on to the knockout stage.
The knockout stage consists of the quarterfinals, semifinals, and gold and bronze medal games. These games cannot end in draws, as a winner must be declared to move on to the next round. Extra time will be played if a game is tied after regulation, and penalty kicks will ensue if still tied after extra time.