How is the Olympic soccer tournament structured?

The men's and women's soccer competitions at the Olympics consist of two stages: a group stage and a knockout stage. The men’s group stage, with 16 total teams, features four groups of four teams each. The women’s group stage, with 12 teams, includes three groups of four. The group drawing accounts for seeding and geography. In this way, teams avoid playing neighboring countries in early matches.

How does the group stage and knockout stage work in Olympic soccer?

Each team plays the others in its group once, with three points for a win, one point for a draw and zero for a loss. Teams are ranked by most total points accumulated in the group, and ties are broken by goal difference.  

For the men, the top-two teams in each group advance to the knockout stage. For the women, the top-two teams in each group and the two best third-place teams advance. In both tournaments, the knockout stage begins with the quarterfinal round. All knockout stage matchups are contested over one 90-minute game. In the event of a tie after the 90 minutes, a 30-minute extra time period is played, followed by a penalty shootout if necessary. 

The winners of the quarterfinal matches face off in the semifinals. The semifinal winners advance to the Gold Medal Match, the semifinal losers play in the Bronze Medal Match.

Which country has the highest ranked international soccer team in the FIFA rankings?

As of February 2024, World Cup champions Argentina is the highest-ranked international team for men's soccer in the FIFA rankings. As for women's soccer, Spain, who is also the reigning World Cup winner, is ranked No. 1. 

Both countries have booked their place for the Paris Olympics, although Argentina's expected men's team will look different as they are only allowed to take players under the age of 23, with the exception of three overaged players. 

The FIFA rankings update after each international window throughout the year. With the next slate of international games set to be played in March, fans can expect another update of rankings sometime in April.