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Gabriel Jesus
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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

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Carli Lloyd: Winning third Olympic gold would be satisfying enough to retire

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Carli Lloyd was already bidding to become the oldest U.S. Olympic soccer player in history at the Tokyo Games before the postponement to 2021. The deferral won’t change that hope, but the big question is whether that would be the 37-year-old legend’s final tournament, should she make the 18-player roster.

“I was going to take it to this summer’s Olympics and then see where I was mentally and physically,” Lloyd said Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I wasn’t sure when I would officially retire. So now I have the opportunity to stick around for another year, and it would be a dream come true to win gold with my teammates.

“That would be satisfying enough for me to officially retire.”

Lloyd was asked straight up about retirement in January and said, “No end in sight, as of yet.”

She actually predicted back in 2015 that the Tokyo Games would ideally be the end point. Since, she started every match at the Rio Olympics as a captain (U.S. lost in penalties in the quarterfinals to Sweden). Then she was primarily a reserve at the 2019 World Cup (the U.S. repeated as champion).

New coach Vlatko Andonovski put Lloyd in the starting lineup for the crucial match of Olympic qualifying in January and two of the three matches of the SheBelieves Cup earlier this month.

Complicating matters: Fellow forward Alex Morgan was absent from both competitions due to pregnancy, and with the Olympic postponement, will have around a year to return from childbirth in her bid to make the team.

Andonovski and U.S. Soccer have tough decisions ahead since the Olympic roster is five fewer players than at the World Cup. Everything is on hold now, though.

“This is bigger than sports. It’s bigger than an Olympics,” Lloyd said of the Olympic postponement in a video interview with an ABC affiliate. “I think it was definitely the right call. Disappointed … but I think for the safety of everybody, it’s definitely the best thing.”

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U.S.’ Olympic men’s soccer qualifying tournament postponed

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The CONCACAF Olympic men’s soccer qualifying tournament was postponed due to the coronavirus, pushing back the U.S.’ bid to qualify for the Games for the first time since 2008.

The tournament was previously scheduled for March 20-April 1 in Guadalajara, Mexico, including the top nations from North and Central America.

“CONCACAF is committed to working with key stakeholders to consider options on how and when to reconvene these competitions, and any new decision will be communicated in due course,” according to a press release.

The U.S., which already named its roster, hopes to grab one of the last two Olympic men’s soccer berths for the 16-team Olympic tournament.

Once the tournament is rescheduled, the Americans must finish first or second in their group against CONCACAF power Mexico, Costa Rica (which usually qualifies for the World Cup but hasn’t been to an Olympics since 2004) and the Dominican Republic.

If it advances, the U.S. would likely play Honduras or Canada in a winner-to-Tokyo semifinal. If the U.S. qualifies, its Olympic roster must be 18 players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997, with three over-age exceptions allowed.

The U.S. failed to qualify for the 2012 and 2016 Olympic tournaments, marking its first back-to-back Olympic absences since 1964 and 1968 (not counting the boycotted 1980 Moscow Games).

World powers France, Germany, Spain, Brazil and Argentina were among the nations to earn Tokyo places from previous continental qualifiers.

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