Eighteen days, two medal ceremonies, and countless highlights later, the men's and women's Olympic soccer tournaments are in the rearview.
This summer's competition was like no other. On the pitch, we saw heavyweights fall early, a slew of current and future stars take centerstage, and an absurd number of matches that went into extra time and penalties. Off the pitch, we were reminded of the impact that COVID-19 had on the Games every single time we turned on our television sets and saw the empty sections of stadium seats that couldn't be filled.
Through it all, the men from Brazil and the women from Canada claimed the gold medals, and twenty-two individuals — some from medal-winning sides, and one from a nation that didn't even escape the group stage — showed their class and earned a place in the Teams of the Tournament.
MEN'S TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT
GK: Santos, Brazil. Brazil's defense was spectacular all tournament, and you'll see that reflected in this Best XI. At the center of it was goalkeeper Santos, whose veteran leadership was on full display at several points during the knockout phase — not the least of which being Brazil's penalty shootout win over Mexico in the semifinal.
LB: Guilherme Arana, Brazil. Brazil played 600 minutes of soccer at the Olympics. Arana was involved in 599 of them. If his reliability isn't a good enough reason to earn a place in the Best XI, his influence on the way Brazil play in attack is. Arana was comfortable and composed defensively, but when Brazil were in possession, he made runs into the middle and final thirds, giving Richarlison the freedom to move centrally.
CB: Pau Torres, Spain. This Spanish team had plenty of rising stars in it, but Pau may be the pick of the bunch. He was fantastic in the center of Spain's defense from Matchday 1 up until the final whistle in the gold medal match, and although it's silver for the Villarreal centre back, he (again) showed the world why European giants are calling for his signature.
CB: Maya Yoshida, Japan. From rising star to seasoned veteran, the 32-year-old Yoshida turned back the clock and put on a fantastic display for the hosts in defense. Before the bronze medal match against Mexico, Japan had only conceded twice in five matches, and Yoshida played every single minute. Yoshida's centre back partner, Takehiro Tomiyasu, is attracting attention from some of Europe's big clubs, but it was the one wearing the captain's armband who led the defense.
RB: Dani Alves, Brazil. Alves is the most decorated player in the history of the sport, and he just added another trophy to his trophy cabinet (his 44th!). He was everywhere for Brazil. Alves created chances, put in tackles, drew fouls, and even scored a sublime penalty in the semifinal shootout against Mexico. In a tournament intended for U-23s, it's 38-year-old Dani Alves receiving Player of the Tournament shouts. What a world.
CM: Bruno Guimaraes, Brazil. I lauded Guimaraes in my combined XI preview article for his box-to-box skill, creative genius, and composure on the ball. He was also a strong presence out of possession for Brazil, especially when his midfield partner Douglas Luiz got himself into trouble. Guimaraes is a gem of a midfielder who won't be at Lyon for much longer, and his performance at this tournament may just have earned him a move to a giant.
CM: Takefusa Kubo, Japan. The main attraction that the host nation had to offer, Take Kubo was as advertised. Kubo scored in every single one of Japan's group stage games and assisted his side's lone goal in the bronze medal match, but even when he wasn't getting goal contributions, he was Japan's most dangerous player on the pitch. He's headed for the top, whether it's with Real Madrid or somewhere else.
CM: Sebastian Cordova, Mexico. The player that everyone was focusing on in this Mexican side pre-Olympics was Real Betis' Diego Lainez. Turns out, it should have been Club America's Cordova, who was immense for Mexico and only got better as the tournament progressed. In Mexico's two knockout stage games and bronze medal match, Cordova recorded a combined three goals and three assists, dragging his nation to the bronze medal almost singlehandedly.
FW: Mikel Oyarzabal, Spain. Like Cordova, we saw Oyarzabal's top form as the tournament progressed. The Real Sociedad captain left an impact on every knockout stage match that Spain played — he grabbed a goal and and assist against Ivory Coast, assisted Asensio's extra time winner against Japan, and scored the equalizer against Brazil in the final. In a field that saw plenty of attacking talent (Vega, Doan, Olmo), Oyarzabal was one of the best.
FW: Matheus Cunha, Brazil. Cunha missed Brazil's semifinal against Japan through injury, and it became obvious just how much his nation missed him in the opening minutes of the final. Cunha was the tournament's best attacking player not named Richarlison. He scored the opener in the gold medal match thanks to a delightful touch between two Spanish defenders and a tidy finish past Unai Simon, but his impact on the team was obvious since Matchday 1.
FW: Richarlison, Brazil. Big things were expected from the Brazilian talisman at this tournament, and after a first half hat trick on Matchday 1, Richarlison was well on his way to meeting them. He scored twice more in Brazil's final group stage match and then assisted Cunha's winning goal against Egypt in the quarterfinal. Richarlison finished with two pieces of golden silverware — the medal and the Boot.
WOMEN'S TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT
GK: Alyssa Naeher, United States. Naeher was the best player that the United States had at these Olympics, and it wasn't particularly close. Scapegoat turned hero against the Netherlands, the best moments from the United States' run in Tokyo came from the player wearing the '1' on her back. Unfortunately, she couldn't feature in most of the semifinal or bronze medal match due to an injury suffered against Canada, but that doesn't take anything away from her fantastic Olympic spell.
LB: Allysha Chapman, Canada. Chapman was a crucial piece of a Canadian defense that was almost unbreakable in the knockout portion of the Olympics. She played as both a left back and as a left centre back in a defensive three, but no matter where she played, she played well. Canada only conceded once in the knockouts — the opener against Sweden — and Chapman played a massive role in all of it.
CB: Nathalie Bjorn, Sweden. Bjorn and defensive partner Amanda Ilestedt created arguably the best centre back duo in the tournament. It started with a clean sheet against the United States, it continued with a group stage performance that saw them concede just twice, and it ended with one of the best defensive records in the entire competition. Bjorn was calm, composed, and comfortable at the back in her first major international tournament as a regular starter.
CB: Vanessa Gilles, Canada. If Sweden's centre backs weren't the best in Tokyo, Canada's were. Gilles only made her national team debut in February, but you wouldn't have been able to tell by just looking at her. She, alongside Kadeisha Buchanan, led the trophy-winning defense, nearly culminating with three clean sheets in the knockout stage.
RB: Hanna Glas, Sweden. Sweden's Glas did it on both ends of the pitch at this year's Olympics, scoring an assist on Matchday 1 against the United States and helping anchor a back line that was joint-best in the competition. She was given a tough task in the final with Canada's wide players, all of which looked up for the challenge, but she weathered the storm well and kept them off the scoresheet.
CM: Desiree Scott, Canada. While Jessie Fleming, Janine Beckie and others were scoring the goals, Scott was patrolling the Canadian midfield. She and Quinn both sat a bit further back in attempts to win the ball, bolster the defense, and pick out passes long, and it was a role played to perfection. She didn't get the goal contributions, but Scott was every bit as important as the players who did.
CM: Jessie Fleming, Canada. Fleming should never have to pay for another drink in Canada again. She emerged as the hero in the semifinal against the United States, scoring from the spot to send Canada into the gold medal match over the favorites. Then, history repeated itself in the final when Fleming again converted from twelve yards out, this time leveling the score in the second half. Her fantastic penalty in the gold medal shootout sent Canada on its way to the top step on the podium.
CM: Kosovare Asllani, Sweden. Asllani played a massive role in the gold medal match as well, setting up Stina Blackstenius in the first half to score the opener. The veteran Asllani played well all tournament, though, scoring against Japan in the quarterfinal and getting an assist against Australia in the group stage. Playing in that number-10/second striker role, she absolutely thrived.
FW: Sam Kerr, Australia. Kerr showed again why she's one of the best forwards in the world with a scintillating display all throughout this summer's Olympics. She hit the ground running right away, scoring three times in the first two matches, and then scored twice more in Australia's quarterfinal match against the Brits. The Chelsea forward was one of the names to watch heading into Tokyo, and she proved why.
FW: Barbra Banda, Zambia. Banda is one of my favorite stories from these Olympics. Wearing the captain's armband for the lowest-ranked nation in the competition, Banda shocked the world with a hat trick in Zambia's opening match against the Netherlands. Granted, they lost 10-3, but when Banda did it again in the next match against China, she cemented herself as one of the top forwards of the competition regardless of how far she went in it. A group stage exit is no matter for the electrifying Banda — she undoubtedly deserves a place in the Best XI.
FW: Vivianne Miedema, Netherlands. If Vivianne Miedema isn't the first name on your Best XI, you're lying. Despite a quarterfinal exit, Miedema's ten goals sit comfortably atop the individual scoring charts, and her 29.6 minutes-per-goal ratio is video game-esque. Miedema entered these Olympics as one of the best players in the world, and she's just made a real good argument for why she should be sitting on the top spot.