How does Olympics football qualification work?



Olympic football qualification doesn’t work the same as the likes of the Euros and other international tournaments – here’s what you need to know

Football at the Olympics is one of the main attractions of the Games, with both men’s and women’s teams competing for the coveted gold medals.

Though national teams compete at the Olympics, the process is slightly different than what happens for the likes of the showpiece international European Championships and Copa America.

Goal has what you need to know about how football teams qualify for the Olympic Games and more.

On this page

  1. What are the qualification routes for football at the Olympics?
  2. How many teams qualify for the Olympics & qualification rules
  3. Men’s Olympic football qualification
  4. Women’s Olympic football qualification

What are the qualification routes for football at the Olympics?

Participating nations qualify for the Olympics based on the qualification rules of their respective association. Each regional body (UEFA, CONMEBOL) determines how each nation qualifies, with each federation having a maximum number of teams they are allowed to have compete.

The host nation automatically qualifies for the Games.

UEFA, for example, use the Men’s European Under-21 Championship as the path for nations to qualify for the Olympics. For the 2020 Olympics, the final four finishers in the competition earned qualification to the Games – France, Germany, Romania and Spain.

UEFA use the top three finishers of the Women’s World Cup to fill the three berths to the women’s Olympic tournament, which is why England’s third-place finish at the 2019 Women’s World Cup earned them a spot through Team GB.

Gold-medal winners do not earn automatic qualification to the next Games, so 2016 Women’s Olympic gold winners Germany were not at the 2020 Olympics.

Other associations like CONCACAF have their own separate Olympics qualification tournament to determine which nations qualify. 

You can view the full breakdown of how each association determines Olympic qualification in the tables below.

Once qualified, the teams are drawn into their groups for the competition group stage via a seeded draw. This is done months in advance of the actual Olympics.

The tournament proper, then, consists of a group stage and a knockout stage (that consists of single-elimination quarter-finals, and then semi-finals which determine the bronze and silver winners), with the final determining the Olympic gold medalists.

How many teams qualify for the Olympics & qualification rules

For Tokyo 2020, 16 men’s football teams qualified, while 12 women’s football teams qualified.

The participation rules for Men’s and Women’s players are different. 

For Men’s football, International Olympic Committee (IOC) rules state that only players under the age of 23 are allowed to compete, with a maximum of three over-23 players permitted. 

For the purposes of the 2020 Olympics, which was delayed a year due to Covid-19, players under the age of 24 were allowed.

For Women’s football, there are no age restrictions on players, so full internationals are permitted to compete.

Men’s Olympic football qualification

Association Qualification means Berth(s)
Host nation Automatic 1
UEFA UEFA European Under-21 Championship 4
Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) OFC Men’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament 1
Confederation of African Football (CAF) Africa U-23 Cup of Nations 3
Asian Football Confederation (AFC) AFC U-23 Championship 3
CONMEBOL CONMEBOL Pre-Olympic Tournament 2
CONCACAF CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship 2

*For 2020 tournament.

Women’s Olympic football qualification

Association Qualification means Berth(s)
Host nation Automatic 1
UEFA FIFA Women’s World Cup 3
Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) OFC Nations Cup 1
Confederation of African Football (CAF) CAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament 1
Asian Football Confederation (AFC) AFC Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2
CONMEBOL Copa America 1
CONCACAF CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship 2
CAF/CONMEBOL CAF-CONMEBOL play-off 1

*For 2020 tournament.



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