This is who will win the Rio Olympics

The Games of the 31st Olympiad are almost here and that of course means there is a plethora of sport for your viewing pleasure.

But here at The Football Sack we know you’re not interested in shot put, equestrian or the gymnastics where they roll around on the floor with the ball. So we’re here to give you a preview for the one thing you really care about… the football.

After the whole country got caught up in Women’s World Cup (WWC) mania last year there is no doubt set to be an all time high interest in both the Matildas and women’s football at the Rio games. So to help both football fiends and first-timers alike we’ve poured over the squads, recent form and major competition history to give you what may or may not be ultimate Rio predictions on who’s in it to win it.

United States
FIFA Ranking – No. 1

Form Guide
The United States come into the Games as one of the hot favorites and justifiably so after adding a third World Cup to their cabinet last year in Canada under Jill Ellis. After being pushed all the way in the WWC Group of Death with Sweden and Australia, Team USA disposed of Columbia, China and Germany on their way to final. The US found a whole other level in the final and what many thought would be an edge-of-seat thriller turned to whitewash with the red, white and blue disposing of world number seven, Japan 5-2.

Their form more recently has been equally impressive with the US cruising through Olympic qualifying without conceding a goal. Team USA also impressed in the inaugural SheBelieves Cup back in March taking out the round robin event ahead of Germany, England and France. They’re currently undefeated in 2016 with the only blemish of their 15 matches coming in 3-3 draw with Japan.

Key Players
Chicago Red Stars defender Julie Johnston had a breakout performance in the WWC and will be at the centre of one of the best defences in world football and in front of the ever-reliable Hope Solo.

The quality further up the pitch is also undeniable with captain Carli Lyod lining up in the middle and boasting more than 200 international caps. While cult heros Lauren Holiday and Abby Wambach have hung up their boots since their last major tournament, there is a host of attacking threats to look out for in the squad including Orlando Pride striker Alex Morgan.

The verdict
With a squad packed full of experienced and talent players that star in their NWSL domestic league, the United States should undoubtedly be considered the number one chance at the tournament. If you don’t agree go back and watch the WWC final again and if you’re still not convinced, women’s football has only been contested in the Olympics five times…and they’ve won it four times.

France
FIFA ranking – No. 3

Form Guide
The third ranked nation in the world are a prime example of an ever-developing and constantly improving squad and they might just be peaking at the right time to claim glory in Brazil. A year on from their quarter-final exit at the hands of Germany 5-4 on penalties and the team is still on the way up after climbing up the rankings from ninth in 2009.

The lead in form for the French outfit has also been solid without grabbing too much attention. The Blues bruised and battered every team they came up against in the 2017 UEFA Women’s Euro Qualifying but with the highest ranked team standing in their way Ukraine at number 23, too much can’t be taken from the results. Meanwhile, more can be said from the 1-0 friendly defeat at the hands of the US and Germany back in March.

Key Players
Captain Wendie Renard will pin down the centre of defence with partner Laura Georges and the pair will make life tough for any attacking outlets, irrespective of the colour of their jerseys.

Louisa Necib as usual will be vital in the midfield for Les Bleuse and look for her or veteran Camille Abily to link up with dangerous striker Eugénie Le Sommer. Also watch out for young Claire Lavogez, despite being the poor soul who missed the penalty causing them to crash out of WWC the 22-year-old is touted as star of the future.

The Verdict
The French squad is one year better off than they were last year at the WWC and with a lot of their potential x-factors still in their prime Les Bleues should go into the competition with high expectations. Their only downfall, as demonstrated by their lead-up form and last year’s WWC exit, is that they struggle to find a way to win in close matches.

Germany
FIFA ranking – No. 2

Form Guide
Rio presents a chance for the German to re-stamp their authority on women’s football. Truth be told last’s year WWC was a disappointing showing for Germany, skating through in one of the easier groups before disposing of an equally disappointing Sweden and bumbling-stumbling past France. The two time World Cup winners were then forced into the third-placed play-off after losing to the US and were ultimately beat 1-0 by England in extra time.

Their form in the first half of 2016, however, has been far more impressive and typical Germany, beating France and England in the SheBelieves Cup before going down to Team USA in the final 2-1. Just to give themselves further confidence leading into Rio they had a perfect tune-up game by picking a fight with someone weaker and belting Ghana 10-0.

Key Players
Anja Mittag scored four against Ghana and that gives an indication how important to the team she is. Plus with WWC co-golden boot winner Célia Šašić retiring since Canada the squad will be looking for goals from her and or the prolific Alexandra Popp.

Nadine Angerer will also be missing from the squad after retiring and moving on to coaching in 2015 after 146 appearances for the national team. With the big-game midfield no longer there, manger Silvia Neid will be keen for likes Melanie Behringer, Lena Goessling and cheeky goal scorer Simon Laudehr to fill the void and the trio more than have the quality to do so.

The Verdict
There is a reason German have not dropped below the number two in the past decaded and it’s because they’re absolute class. Popp and Mittag each have an eye for goal and are genuine finishers. But Neid has lost not only two world-class players since the WWC, but also two genuine leaders and that’s an issue. Depsite other nations rapidly rising in women’s football German certainly are still one of the big favourites for Rio.

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Australia
FIFA ranking – No. 5

Form Guide
The Matildas’ wowed the entire nation 12 months ago convincingly beating the far more fancied Brazilian side and drawing with genuine footballing powerhouse Sweden to make the quarterfinals. But perhaps their best performance of the tournament was their opening match against the US, where for a large portion of the match the Matildas look the superior squad and made all the other nations take notice.

Australia looked comfortable during the Olympic qualifiers, disposing of Japan 3-1 along the way before drawing 1-1 with China in their final match. Coming off the back of win and draw with New Zealand the Matildas lined up against Brazil in their final hit-out match before Rio. Australia lead 1-0 before a red card for Katrina Gorry saw the South Americans run down the Aussies 3-1 amid some howling about some questionable calls. Take from that match what you will.

Key Players
With the likes of Alana Kennedy and Laura Alleway leading the defence and prolific goal-scores up front including veteran Lisa de Vanna and back-in-favor Michelle Heyman the forward and backs will prove a problem for any team in the competition.

But it’s the Matildas midfield, stacked with enough talent to nauseate opponents, that is really the showpiece. Emily van Egmond and Katrina Gorry really came into the own at the WWC and with the adaptable and dependable Tameka Butt normally forced to play off the bench the argument of talent-stacked a midfield is well heeded. Meanwhile we could go on for hours about Elise Kellond-Knight…so we will. KK put in an almost faultless performance at the WWC with her distribution and screening in front of the back four as good as anyone else in the tournament. She was arguably the best player of the tournament.

The Verdict
Of course they can win it, anyone saying the can’t need only cast their mind back to WWC last year where many pundits said the Matildas couldn’t escape the group of death, let alone make it to the quarter finals. Australia have climbed 10 places in the FIFA rankings in the last 10 years and there is no reason their remarkable rise to one of the best footballing nations in the world can’t continue by claiming their first Olympic Games crown.

The Rest

At this point you’re no doubt all banging on about how safe we’ve played it with predictions, nominating the top four ranked nations in the Games as favorites to take out the tournament. Well the reason for that is they’re the best ranked nations in the world for a reason, they’re genuinely the best. Unlike the useless men’s rankings the women’s actually carry some weight.

But like many around the The Football Sack office you’re deadest on getting behind an underdog should it go south for Australia. So here is the best of the rest.

Brazil
FIFA ranking – No. 8

The host nation will be desperate to claim the Games on home soil and they’re not to be underestimated, nor is the home ground advantage. But for other teams to be on the up, others have to be going down and Brazil is one of them.

Canada
FIFA ranking – No. 10

Put in a very impressive showing at the WWC last year topping their group and disposing of Switzerland in the Round of 16 before being ousted by eventual third place getters England. One to watch for sure.

Sweden
FIFA ranking – No. 6

Bitterly disappointing in the WWC last year limping through the group stage as a third place qualifier and in truth never looked like mounting a serious tilt at the crown. But with the likes of co-captains Lotta Schelin and Caroline Serger in the team along with the dangerous Sofia Jakobsson they can’t be completely discounted.

New Zealand
FIFA rankings – No. 17

Put in a good shift at the WWC Cup in a tough group and showed their potential recently against Australia. We love the Football Ferns and if it can’t be us let’s hope it’s them.

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Editor of The Football Sack and former graduate who now works in the ancient and noble art of print media.