Top stars out of South American Olympic soccer qualifying

Arsenal's Gabriel Martinelli kicks a ball during warmup before the Europa League group F soccer match between Vitoria SC and Arsenal. (Luis Vieira/AP)

BOGOTA — South American soccer teams trying to secure a spot at the Tokyo Olympics will have to do without some of their best Under-23 players at an upcoming qualifying tournament.

The region’s Pre-Olympic Tournament begins on Saturday in Colombia without many of the top players that are eligible, including Brazil’s Real Madrid duo Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior and Arsenal forward Gabriel Martinelli. Argentina is without Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez and Lisandro Martinez of Ajax, while host Colombia is missing Luis Fernando Diaz of Porto.

The main reason is that the tournament is not an official FIFA event, and so clubs have no obligation to make their players available. Brazil had to replace five players of its final squad list because European clubs did not authorize their players to go.

“As coach what I can do is to call them and then it is up for the clubs to collaborate,” said Argentina coach Fernando Batista.

It’s the first time since 2004 that the Pre-Olympic Tournament has been staged. For the last three Olympics, the South American Youth Championship was used as the Olympic qualifying event instead.

Colombia is in group A with Argentina, Chile, Venezuela and Ecuador, while Brazil is in group B with Uruguay, Peru, Paraguay and Bolivia.

The top two in each group advance to the second round, with the winner and runner-up qualifying for Tokyo.

Defending Olympic champion Brazil is coached by Andre Jardine, who will face much less pressure than his predecessor four years ago at the Rio de Janeiro Games. His team features attacking midfielder Reinier, who is about to turn 18 and has been linked with a move to Real Madrid from Flamengo.

Argentina won Olympic gold in 2004 and 2008 but was eliminated in the first round in Rio. The team now features mainly players from the domestic league, with a few exceptions such as Joaquin Blazquez of Valencia, and Valentin Castellanos of New York City FC.

The star of the team is explosive San Lorenzo striker Adolfo Gaich, who has already been called up to the senior national team.

Colombia called up 15 domestic players and eight that play abroad.

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