Top Young Soccer Stars to Watch at the Tokyo Olympics

By Ben Morris in Olympics
| July 20, 2021 10:45 am PDT

Men’s Olympic soccer usually has an under-23 age limit, with three over-age players allowed in each squad.

However, with last summer’s Games being postponed, the age ceiling for men’s soccer at Tokyo 2020 has been lifted to 24 – incorporating players who were denied the chance to compete last year.

The rule change means there are now even more top young soccer players at the Tokyo Olympics.

Notable names like Neymar, Carlos Tevez, Romario, and Hernan Crespo all starred at the Olympic Games before going on to become soccer icons. The best young soccer players at Tokyo 2020 will be hoping to enjoy similar success.

Below, I look at nine young men’s soccer stars to watch at the Tokyo Olympics.

Pedri

  • Age: 18
  • Nation: Spain
  • Club: Barcelona

Fresh from lighting up Euro 2020, Pedri is set to further enhance his growing reputation at the Tokyo Olympics.

The Barcelona prodigy is arguably the most exciting teenager in world soccer at the moment, and with ten senior intentional caps under his belt already, he could make a huge impact on the upcoming Games.

No played featured in more matches for Barca than Pedri last season. The gifted midfielder chalked up four goals and six assists in 52 appearances for the Catalan giant during the 2020/21 campaign, underlining his talent.

With an outrageously bright future ahead of him, Pedri is undoubtedly one of the best young soccer players to watch at the Tokyo Olympics.

Pedri

Lee Kang-in

  • Age: 20
  • Nation: South Korea
  • Club: Valencia

It’s safe to say that Lee Kang-in is Asian soccer’s next big thing.

The South Korean joined Valencia’s academy all the way back in 2011 and has since made more than 60 appearances for the Spanish club.

Lee was handed his international debut when he was just 18, playing in a friendly game against Georgia. A few months later, he was part of the South Korea side that thrashed Sri Lanka 8-0 in a World Cup qualifier.

The 20-year-old already has a host of individual accolades to his name, too. After scooping the Golden Ball at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, he was named Asian Young Footballer of the Year.

If South Korea goes far in the Olympics, expect Lee to be at the heart of the action.

Pierre Kalulu

  • Age: 21
  • Nation: France
  • Club: AC Milan

Pirre Kalulu heads into Tokyo 2020 on the back of a breakout season with Italian powerhouse AC Milan. The French right-back made 18 appearances for the Rossoneri last term, helping his team to finish second in Serie A.

Best known for his blistering pace and versatility, Kalulu is comfortable at center-back, as well as on the right side of defense.

With high-profile names like Malang Sarr, Eduardo Camavinga, and William Saliba withdrawing from France’s Olympic squad, Kalulu looks set to play a key role for Les Blues this summer.

When it comes to discussing the top young soccer players in the Tokyo Olympics, Kalulu must be included in the conversation.

Pierre Kalulu

Eric Garcia

  • Age: 20
  • Nation: Spain
  • Club: Barcelona

It could be argued that Spain boasts the strongest squad in the men’s soccer event at Tokyo 2020.

Alongside Pedri, Real Marid duo Dani Ceballos and Marco Asensio feature on the 22-man roster, while guys like Unai Simon, Pau Torres, Dani Olmo, and Mikel Oyarzabal are all included after starring at the recent European Championship.

Another notable name on the list is Eric Garcia.

The ex-Manchester City defender – who recently re-signed with Barcelona – made three appearances at Euro 2020 and even played a part in Spain’s semi-final loss to eventual champions Italy.

Having played 35 matches for Man City, Garcia is more than capable of lighting up this summer’s Games.

Gabriel Martinelli

  • Age: 20
  • Nation: Brazil
  • Club: Arsenal

After missing the majority of the 2020/21 campaign through injury, Gabriel Martinelli will surely be desperate to make up for lost time at the Olympics.

Along with fellow EPL stars such as Richarlison and Douglas Luiz, the Arsenal forward has been named in Brazil’s star-studded squad for Tokyo 2020, which also contains over-age icon Dani Alves.

Martinelli moved to Arsenal in 2019 but has struggled to make an impact in North London. However, there is absolutely no doubting his ability. Boasting searing pace, clever movement, and clinical finishing, the 20-year-old is only going to get better.

There is no doubt in my mind that Martinelli is one of the best young soccer players to watch at Tokyo 2020.

Not only are the Brazilians the defending Olympic champions, but they are also the bookies’ favorites to win gold this time around. If you’re interested in gambling on the event, make sure you check out my betting preview for men’s soccer at Tokyo 2020.

Amad Diallo

  • Age: 19
  • Nation: Ivory Coast
  • Club: Manchester United

When Manchester United signed Amad Diallo for £19 million back in January, the Red Devils acquired one of the hottest properties in world soccer.

The Ivorian made a name for himself by bagging 13 goals and 15 assists in 46 outings for Atalanta Primavera. Although he only made a handful of appearances for Atalanta’s first team, Man Utd wasn’t afraid to splash the cash.

After racking up four goals and three assists in just three games for Man Utd’s U23 side, Diallo was swiftly promoted to the senior set-up. He then capped of a stellar breakout season by netting in the Europa League.

The Ivory Coast isn’t expected to challenge for a medal this summer, but Diallo is definitely among the top young men’s soccer stars at the Tokyo Olympics.

Even at 19, Diallo is nowhere near the age of the youngest athletes at Tokyo 2020.

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Takefusa Kubo

  • Age: 20
  • Nation: Japan
  • Club: Real Madrid

It is easy to forget that Takefusa Kubo is still only 20. I mean, the Japanese prodigy signed for Real Madrid back in 2019 and has established himself as one of the best young players in world soccer over the past couple of years.

Kubo has yet to make his debut for Los Blancos. However, he has enjoyed successful loans spells at Mallorca, Getafe, and Villarreal – winning the 2020/21 Europa League with the Yellow Submarine.

Renowned for his technical ability and intricate passes, Kubo will fancy his chance of breaking into the Real Madrid first team after the Olympics.

As Japan’s star man, Kubo will be expected to guide Japan to the podium at this summer’s Games.

Takefusa Kubo

Diego Lainez

  • Age: 21
  • Nation: Mexico
  • Club: Real Betis

Mexico won gold at the 2012 Olympic Games, with future stars like Raul Jimenez and Giovani Dos Santos helping their nation to achieve greatness in London.

If the Mexicans want to emulate their 2012 heroics, they will need Diego Lainez to step up.

Lainez is one of only two players in Mexico’s 22-man Olympic squad that doesn’t play his club soccer in Mexico, with Genk’s Gerardo Arteaga the other exception. That tells you everything you need to know about his ability.

The former Club America winger moved to Spanish side Real Betis in 2019. Since then, he has become an integral part of Manuel Pellegrini’s team – notching just under a half-century of appearances for Los Verdiblancos.

There is no denying that Lainez has the potential to be one of the best young soccer players at the Tokyo Olympics.

Daniel Arzani

  • Age: 22
  • Nation: Australia
  • Club: Manchester City

Man City supporters could be forgiven for not knowing a great deal about Daniel Arzani. After all, the Australian has yet to play a single second for Pep Guardiola’s team since joining the Etihad outfit in 2018.

Following his move from Melbourne City, Arzani has spent time on loan in Scotland, the Netherlands, and Denmark, playing for Celtic, Utrecht, and AGF, respectively.

However, the Iranian-born winger has already earned a handful of caps for the Socceroos and looks set to play a key role for his country at the Olympic Games.

A-League youngsters such as Connor Metcalfe and Joel King are worth keeping an eye on, too. But if the Aussies are going to challenge for a medal this summer, Arzani is likely to be the guy who stands out.

Wrapping Things Up

Men’s soccer hasn’t always been one of the must-watch events at the Olympics. The age limit prevents a lot of the world’s top players from competing at the Games, while many elite players choose not to participate altogether.

Still, it feels like there are countless young men’s soccer stars to watch at Tokyo 2020.

I mean, my list of the best young soccer players at the Tokyo Olympics comprises two Barcelona prodigies, a Real Madrid starlet, and players from both Manchester clubs in the EPL – so they must be pretty good! Something to think about if you’re betting on Olympic soccer.

There are several new sports debuting at Tokyo 2020, too. Check out the following post to learn more about the new Olympic sports.

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