The road to Olympic gold in men's soccer goes through Brazil, both literally and figuratively. The host nation--which largely eschewed this summer's Copa America to focus on the Olympics---is a heavy odds-on favorite to win the 16-team tournament for the first time. The Olympics is the only international tournament organized by FIFA that Brazil has never won in its illustrious history. Three times The Green and Yellow has taken silver, including in London in 2012.
The field is broken into four groups, with the top two finishers in each advancing to the knockout stage. Here are the odds to win Olympic gold in men's soccer, courtesy of Bovada, followed by expert picks and analysis:
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South Korea +4000
South Africa +5000
Most Likely Winner: Brazil
Brazil has pulled out all the stops in its quest for a first-ever Olympic gold. First, Brazil put such a priority on winning the Olympics that it sent a largely skeleton squad to compete in this summer's Copa America. Second, and most importantly, Brazil has enlisted Neymar as one of its three designated players over the age of 23. The feared Barcelona striker is by far the most accomplished player in the tournament and instantly makes Brazil the favorite.
You won't win much backing the Green and Yellow, but Brazil looks simply a cut above the competition.
Biggest Disappointments: Germany, Mexico
Mexico is the defending Olympic champions having won gold in London in 2012. El Tri also breezed through CONCACAF qualifying last year. So why the skepticism? Things have been much different in 2016. Mexico played six matches in Europe this spring--two friendlies and four matches in the Toulon Cup that featured several teams in the Olympic tournament. Mexico lost both friendlies and failed to get out of the group stage in the Toulon Cup. That leaves little for optimism with this group.
This is Germany's first appearance in the Olympics since Seoul in 1988, which is a rather remarkable fact given the nation's role as one of the world's soccer powers. There is reason for concern, however. In European qualifying, the Germans finished behind Denmark in the group stage and then were promptly blitzed by Portugal 5-0 in the semifinals.
Given Germany's historical lack of production in the Olympics, and mediocre qualifying performance, it might be best to look elsewhere.
Value Play: Sweden
The Scandinavian country isn't without a shot at a juicy 22-1 to win gold. Sweden enters this tournament as the champions of Europe, having outlasted Portugal in penalty kicks in the final of last year's UEFA European U-21 Championship. Sweden's strength is on the backline. In the finals of qualifying, they kept a clean sheet for 120 minutes against a talented Portugal squad. This helped result in two Swedish defenders--Victor Lindelof and Filip Helander--being named to the tournament's Best XI.
Sweden's other big asset is the international experience at the senior level of several of its youngsters. With Sweden's national team being down, a handful of these young Olympians have already seen significant action with the senior team. That could play big with the pressure of this competition.
The biggest concern for Sweden is its group, which is probably the toughest in the tournament. Colombia and Nigeria each has the talent to make a deep run, while Japan is a potential sleeper. Still, getting 22-1 on the European champions seems worth a wager.
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