Football at the Olympics is many things – including a quest for national glory. It is also a platform for young, upcoming players to audition for scouts from big clubs. The performances of Nigeria's flamboyant footballer Jay-Jay Okocha or Argentina's erstwhile forward Carlos Tevez have not only breathed life into the tournament in the past but also earned big-ticket deals for the players.

At Rio, however – where the football matches begin on August 4, before the official opening ceremony – the national pride narrative is a particularly powerful one this year. For Brazil are playing on home soil. Coming off a crushing disappointment in the Centenary Copa, where they were ousted in the first round, Brazil desperately need redemption, especially since they're playing at home.

Despite all the silverware that Brazil have collected over the decades, they have never managed to clinch a football gold in the Olympics. In many ways, they have been the footballing equivalent of the South African cricket team here. So desperate are some Brazilian footballers for this elusive title that Neymar even sat out the Copa to concentrate on this tournament.

To be sure, a large section of the Brazilian public think that the Games shouldn't have been hosted the country in the first place. The country has been plagued by an acute lack of employment opportunities and serious financial trouble. Still, the average Brazilian doesn't care: winning is all that matters to him.

But the world of football has witnessed a power shift and it is Germany who have been the pacesetters of late, following Spain. Today the Germans are among the favourites in any tournament they play. With a star-studded side, they are expected to go far here as well.

Obviously, Brazil would like to have a thing or two to say about that. So would, possibly, Sweden, who have risen above their one-trick pony show, centred around Zlatan Ibrahimovic over the last few years, to build a quality crop of players. The Scandinavian nation were the U-21 champions last year, and have six players from that side turning up for Rio. With teams being allowed to field only three players over 23, it's usually the youth teams that form the core of the Olympic teams.

The format

There are 16 teams divided into groups of four. Two teams from each group qualify for the knockout stages.

Asia have three representatives – Iraq, Japan, South Korea. So has South America – hosts Brazil, the South American youth championship winners, Argentina, and Colombia.

Europe, which enjoys four spots have all the semi-finalists of the U-21 European Championships: Germany, Portugal, Sweden, and Denmark. Fiji is the only country from the Oceania region, while Africa also get two places, taken by South Africa and the 1996 Olympic gold winners Nigeria. Holders Mexico and Honduras round up the sixteen.

Most fancied teams

Barcelona superstar Neymar has been drafted into the Brazilian side to lead the country to the promised land. After a stellar season with Bayern Munich, Douglas Costa was all set to bolster the attacking third, but an injury just before the start of the tournament meant that he had to sit this one out.

Germany look solid across departments. Some of the names in the roster have already established themselves at club level, even at a tender age. This will be the first time that they will be participating in the Olympics since 1988. Sweden have a good mix of players and can reach at least the semi-finals, if the young players lived up to the promise they showed last year.

The groups

Group A: Brazil, Denmark, South Africa, Iraq
Brazil are overwhelming favourites to top Group A. It will take dour defending by opponents to stem their flow of attacks. Denmark are the only team who could make them sweat a little. South Africa and Iraq don't inspire much.

Likely qualifiers: Brazil, Denmark.

Group B: Sweden, Colombia, Nigeria, Japan
The pressure is on the young core of Sweden, who won the UEFA Under-21 Championships last year. Colombia have been churning out players of quality in recent times. The first game of the group is between Sweden and Colombia, and depending on who wins, the group will open up for the rest. Nigeria have been on the ascendancy in recent times.

Likely qualifiers: Sweden, Colombia.

Group C: Fiji, South Korea, Mexico, Germany
It's hard to believe that world champions Germany are going to play in the Olympics for the first time since 1988. They have not left anything to chance and are armed with a handful of names with international experience. Holders Mexico are also tipped to go far, and can even top the group. As for South Korea, great things are expected from Kwon Chang-hoon, but they will struggle to finish in the top two.

Likely qualifiers: Mexico, Germany.

Group D: Honduras, Algeria, Portugal and Argentina
There was a lot of talk about Algeria managing to convince English Premier League star Riyad Mahrez to play in the tournament. The Leicester City forward backed out, however. Portugal and Argentina are expected to sail into the knockout stages with minimum fuss.

Likely qualifiers: Argentina, Portugal.

Players to watch out for

Among the young players, the aforementioned Ericson will be a name to watch out for. Brazil's Gabriel Barbosa is highly rated and is dubbed as the "next Neymar" in his country. It is a shame that Portugal couldn't play the precociously talented Renato Sanches. Bruno Fernandes has proved that he could be an integral part of Portugal's future after putting up some impressive displays at Udinese.

Argentina usually have some eye-catching names, but only Atletico Madrid forward Angel Correa stands out. Defending champions Mexico have a terrific talent in midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro, who is being tracked by big clubs across Europe.

Of the players above 23, the Bender twins of Germany, Sven and Lars, are established players in their own right. Nils Petersen, coming in on the back of a superb season in 2 Bundesliga, will be in line to top the goalscoring charts.

Neymar, like he did in the 2014 World Cup, almost singlehandedly carries the expectations of an entire nation. Paris Saint-Germain defender, Marquinhos is another eye-catching name in the Brazilian squad. Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel will be orchestrating the play for Nigeria in the middle of the park.