Tokyo 2021 Olympics: Team GB discover group stage opponents - and what it means for medal hopes

Tom Garry
·4 min read
Interim England head coach Hege Riise will lead Team GB in Tokyo - GETTY IMAGES
Interim England head coach Hege Riise will lead Team GB in Tokyo - GETTY IMAGES

Team GB’s women’s football team avoided the world champions, the United States, and the next England head coach Sarina Wiegman’s Holland side, after being drawn into the hosts Japan’s group for the Olympics.

Canada and Chile make up the rest of the group involving GB, who qualified by virtue of England’s performance at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, but can select players from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Head coach Hege Riise, who won Olympic gold as a player with Norway in 2000, will select her 18-player squad and four reserves next month.

Having been drawn in a separate group from Wiegman’s European champions and the back-to-back World Cup winners the USA, GB will be confident of progressing to the knockout stages, but will still face difficult tests in Group E - which is the first of three groups but has been so named because the men’s tournament’s groups were labelled A-D.

As hosts, Japan will be expected to challenge, while Canada beat England and Wales in friendlies earlier this month and Chile’s Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Christiane Endler is widely seen as one of the very best shot-stoppers in the world.

Unlike in the men’s version where age limits apply, women’s teams can field their strongest, senior sides, so the women’s game sees the competition as a major tournament and gold medals are seen as the pinnacle of players' careers.

When are Team GB’s games?

Riise’s team will play in the first match of the women’s football competition on the opening day of the entire Olympic Games, on July 21. Across all sports, only women's softball will start earlier than Team GB v Chile, which will be played in the northern city of Sapporo, on a different island to Tokyo's Olympic village.

Three days later, GB will meet the hosts in Sapporo again, before taking on Canada nearly 700 miles away in Kashima on July 27.

With 12 teams in the competition, the top two sides in each of the three groups will go through to the quarter-finals, along with the two best third-place teams.

The winners of GB’s group would take on a third-placed nation in Kashima on July 30, before potentially meeting the winners of the USA’s group in the semi-finals in Yokohama on August 2.

The runners-up in GB’s group will face the runners-up from Group F [Holland's group] in the coastal town of Rifu on July 30, before colliding with the Group F winners on August 2 in Kashima.

The final, in Tokyo, will be played on August 6. Germany, 2016 gold-medal winners, have not qualified for the competition, but runners-up, Sweden, are in Group G alongside their long-standing rivals the USA, while GB’s opponents Canada took bronze five years ago.

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The group-stage draw

Group E

Japan, Canada, Great Britain, Chile

Group F

China, Brazil, Zambia, Holland

Group G

Sweden, USA, Australia, New Zealand

GB's fixtures

GB v Chile, July 21 [8.30am BST]

Japan v GB, July 24 [11.30am BST]

Canada v GB, July 27 [12.00 midday BST]

Who are the medal contenders?

The USA are the most successful nation in the competition’s history with four gold medals and, with global stars including Megan Rapinoe, Sam Mewis and Alex Morgan, they will be the clear favourites once again.

Neither Germany nor Norway - the only other countries to have won the tournament - have qualified this time, but two-time silver medalists Brazil have strong pedigree, world-famous names including the legendary Marta, and are now coached by highly-respected former USA and Sweden coach Pia Sundhage.

Sweden beat England to finish third at the 2019 World Cup and will be a strong force yet again, while Canada and Australia - spearheaded by Chelsea striker Sam Kerr - will also pose significant threats - in what looks set to be a very competitive event.

After England reached the semi-finals of their past three consecutive major tournaments, GB will be under pressure to reach the latter stages and challenge for a medal, with Fifa Best Player of 2020 Lucy Bronze among their key players.

Their relatively kind draw arguably boosts their chances significantly, but Japan, Canada and Chile must not be underestimated.