France get favourable Olympic draws; Mbappe waits for clearance to play

March 21 – Hosts France were handed a favourable group in both the men’s and women’s tournaments of the Olympic Games following Wednesday’s draw in Paris.

The French will open the men’s tournament against the United States, two days before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in the country’s capital. New Zealand and the winner of a CAF-AFC playoff complete Group A.

Manager Thierry Henry said that “nothing is easy” but the group should allow France to dream of claiming gold for the first time since the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles where the team defeated Brazil in the final to wrap up a memorable year for Les Bleus.

Henry will be able to pick from a remarkable talent pool, but the participation of PSG and France star Kylian Mbappé remains in doubt. It is understood he is keen to represent France but a potential move to Real Madrid could prevent the striker from playing.

Men’s football at the Olympic Games is for U-23 teams, but each side is allowed to select three players over the age of 23 for their squad. FIFA does not require clubs to release players for the tournament.

Finishing top of Group A will allow the hosts to potentially avoid Argentina, who were drawn in Group B with Morocco, debutants Ukraine and the third-qualified nation from Asia.

Argentina won the gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Spain, Egypt, the Dominican Republic and the second qualifier from the AFC complete Group C. Paraguay, Israel, Mali and the first qualified team from Asia feature in Group D.

France’s women were also given a comfortable draw, facing defending champions Canada, Colombia and New Zealand. The French finished fourth at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, losing the bronze medal match to Canada’s last-minute strike. Hervé Renard will seek to become only the second host nation after the United States in 1996 in Atlanta to claim the gold medal on home soil.

The United States, Germany, Japan and the winner of a CAF playoff (Zambia or Morocco) make up Group B, the toughest quartet of the draw.

With four gold medals, the US is the most successful team in the history of the tournament, first played at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, but the Americans are no longer as dominant, claiming just bronze in Tokyo and exiting the last World Cup in the second round, and having dropped to fourth in the world rankings.

The tournament will represent Emma Hayes’s debut at a major finals with the US.

In Group C, world champions Spain entertain Brazil, Japan and the winner of a playoff between Nigeria and South Africa. The top two teams in each group advance to the quarter-finals, alongside the two best third-placed teams. For the first time, the women’s final will conclude football at the Olympic Games, with the Parc des Princes staging the two deciders in the final weekend of the IOC’s sporting extravaganza.

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