Olympics 2016: What time is the football and who to watch?

Neymar will be among the stars at the Olympics with Brazil tipped in the men's tournament and USA favourites for women's gold

(Image credit: VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)

The 2016 Olympics officially opens on Friday in Rio with an opening ceremony that is sure to combine colourful costumes with incomprehensible metaphors. But by then the Games will already be underway and football is one of the events that starts early.

Football's Olympic thread

Football has appeared in every Olympics except 1896 and 1932. Organised football was in its infancy for the first Games and in 1932 hosts Los Angeles dropped it because they wanted to use the Games to promote American Football, which featured as a demonstration sport. Women's football had to wait until 1996 for its bow, and since then the USA have won four out of the five Games with Norway (2000), the only country to beat the States in a final.

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Who has the most men's medals?

Hungary and Great Britain have both won three golds with the Hungarians also boasting a silver and bronze. This year's hosts Brazil have won the most medals without ever getting gold, the South Americans losing the final in 1984, 1988 and 2012. They will be hoping to avoid a repeat of the 2014 World Cup, when their team imploded in spectacular fashion in the semi-final and lost 7-1 to Germany.

Why no Team GB?

Great Britain stopped trying to qualify for the Olympics in 1974 after the Football Association abolished the distinction between amateur and professional players, which meant that the England amateur football team, the basis of the British Olympic team, no longer existed.

But what about 2012?

True, Team GB competed in the men's and women's tournament four years ago but that was a one off because the Games were in London. It's not possible for a combined British team to appear in a future Games because each of the four home nations (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales) competes separately in other tournaments.

Currently the home nations are allowed to compete individually thanks to Fifa rules, fielding a combined GB team could threaten that.

What's the format in Rio?

The men's tournament features 16 nations in four groups of four with the top two teams in each group advancing to the quarter-finals. For the women, there are 12 nations in three pools of four with the the top two in each group going into the quarter-finals along with the two best third-placed teams.

How did they all qualify?

Through a succession of tournaments staged around the world in the last two years. For the women these included the 2015 World Cup and the 2014 Copa America, whereas the men's teams qualified via age-group tournaments such as last year's Africa's Under-23 Cup of Nations and Uefa's Under-21 championship.

Can anyone play for their country's Olympic team?

Yes, if you're a woman, but in the men's tournament the squads must consist of players aged 23 or under (born on or after 1 January 1993) with only three overage players permitted in each squad.

Who are the host cities?

Six cities will host the football - Rio de Janeiro, Manaus, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Salvador and Sao Paulo - with both finals being staged at the Maracana in Rio. Many of the venues were built for the 2014 World Cup and have been underused since then.

Ones of watch:

Neymar, Brazil: Plays for Barcelona. World superstar. A country's hopes rest on his young shoulders, just as they did in 2014.

Gabriel Jesus, Brazil: The 19-year-old frontman is tipped to leave Spanish outfit Palmerias for Manchester City in the coming weeks but in the meantime has the chance to showcase his sensational skills.

Takuma Asano, Japan: One of three Arsenal players at the Olympics, the 21-year-old Japanese frontman will be closely watched the Gunners after he signed for the club in July

Alexandra Popp: Germany: The 25-year-old striker has scored 28 goals in 60 games for her country and will spearhead Germany's challenge in Rio.

Mallory Pugh, USA: The only non-professional player in the USA squad, the 18-year-old forward was voted USA Young Player of the Year in 2015 and scored on her senior debut in January v Ireland.

Football favourites

Not surprisingly the USA are red-hot favourites to take gold in the women's event. Not only are they the reigning champs but Team USA won the World Cup last year, thrasing Japan 5-2 in the final. The men's tournament is more open with Germany and Brazil in with a strong shout, the hosts determined to make amends for their humiliating World Cup two years ago.

When is it on?

The women's tournament kicks off on Wednesday 3 August with Sweden playing South Africa at 5pm and the quarter-finals begin nine days later. The Bronze and Gold matches are on Friday 19 August, the day before the climax to the men's tournament, which begins this Thursday at 5pm with Denmark facing Iraq.

The full schedule is available on the Fifa website. Kick off times are local.

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