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Brazil aims to break Olympic curse with football gold
Despite boasting the most World Cup wins of any country, Brazil has never won Olympic gold in football. But coach Mario Menezes’ team hopes to change all that when they take on Mexico in the final at Wembley on Saturday.
Despite being highly regarded as the world’s most decorated footballing nation, Brazil have never won Olympic gold in the sport -- a glaring anomaly.
If the men’s team can overcome Mexico in the final at Wembley this Saturday, coach Mario Menezes’ collection of young players will be able to claim an historic achievement no other Seleção (Portugese for “team”) has yet managed.
Brazil boast the most World Cup wins of any country, with five titles, but they have drawn a blank over 60 years of Olympic history.
The women’s team’s involvement tells a similar story. They have appeared at the Olympics on all five occasions since it was introduced in the 1996 Atlanta Games, and, like their male counterparts, the closest they have come to gold is earning silver twice.
But many feel now that Brazil’s time has finally come: Menezes’s players have won all of their matches so far, averaging three goals per game (in the purest way possible: they have scored exactly three goals in each of their five games). If they are able to repeat the same against Mexico, the elusive gold will be theirs.
Eying Rio de Janeiro 2016
With the next Olympic Games being held in Brazil in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, and the next World Cup in Brazil as well, two years prior, nothing would give Brazilian football fans greater pleasure than a maiden Olympic gold to defend on home turf. And this in the footballing home of the nation that gave the modern form of the sport to the world. Coach Menezes has called London’s Wembley stadium, “the temple of football”.
As an Olympic sport, football is often regarded as somewhat incongruent. While the Games represent the pinnacle of any participant’s career for most events, that is far from the case in modern football’s highly commercialised universe.
Most of the players involved are not the best their nation has to offer. A large proportion of the world’s best footballers never get anywhere near competing at the Olympics for their country. This is partly due to the selection criteria: teams can only field players aged 23 or under, plus three older players.
Overshadowed by World Cup
Olympic football is overshadowed, first and foremost, by the World Cup, followed by the Champions League, the European championship and Copa America. These are the competitions that represent the highest level of the sport.
Yet it has not always been this way. Much was made of Spain’s recent treble success, lauded as a world first, as they won three major competitions in a row. In capturing their second consecutive Euro crown in Kiev on July 1st by thrashing Italy 4-0, they earned another Euro title to top their World Cup win in South Africa two years previously.
Except it had been done before: Uruguay won consecutive Olympic Games in 1924 and 1928, before claiming the inaugural World Cup on home turf in 1930. That people don’t count this achievement alongside Spain’s is indicative of how Olympic football is viewed by many.
In Brazil, things are different. Despite their unequalled international success, the Brazilians want this win badly. And with such a talented team it is surely there for the taking against a Mexico side making an Olympic final debut.
Squad packed with talent
Brazil’s squad boasts many players that will form a team fancied to win the World Cup on home turf in 2014.
Leandro Damião is one of them, and has six of Brazil’s 15 goals so far, including two in their comfortable 3-0 semi-final win over South Korea.
Neymar is the star attraction -- a man the legendary Pele described as better than Lionel Messi. A partisan view perhaps, but Neymar already has over 100 career goals at the age of 20, and his time as the planet's best player will surely come.
As well as the Santos star, Brazil boast a collection of other youngsters that, if it were not for a financial renaissance in the Brazilian game, would already be lighting up the Champions League, or are already about to.
The supremely talented Ganso is one of them, as is Paris Saint-Germain’s newly-signed Lucas Moura, and new Chelsea recruit Oscar.
There are also established names such as captain and new PSG defender Thiago Silva, FC Porto’s Hulk, AC Milan’s Alexandre Pato, and Real Madrid’s Marcelo.
These players are already global stars, and their careers will not be defined by what happens in London. The furthering of their club-career legacies will not be at stake come Saturday’s 3pm kick off. Instead, they could do something no other player from the world’s foremost footballing nation has ever done -- and that, for most of Brazil, is worth more than its weight in gold.