Brazil’s Seleção eyes first Olympic gold
By Dialogo July 13, 2012
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Renewal. That’s been the motto for coach Mano Menezes since taking the helm of Brazil’s national soccer team, the Seleção, in July 2010.
On July 5, Menezes once again showed he wants to give opportunities to the team’s younger players, who will vie for its first gold medal at the Olympics, which begin on July 27 in London.
“The fans liked the young team they saw playing in the recent friendlies. If the fans liked it, [if the team] makes people feel good, that’s a sign we’re on the right path,” Menezes said during a media conference after announcing the members of the team that would compete in the Games of the XXX Olympiad.
Olympic soccer rules state 15 of the 18 players on each team must be 23 years of age or younger. Menezes also chose relatively young players to fill the remaining three slots.
Left winger Marcelo, who plays for Spain’s Real Madrid, is 24. Midfielder Hulk, who plays for Portugal’s Porto, is 25. The elder statesman of the team, defender Thiago Silva, who was recently trasferred from Italy’s AC Milan to Paris Saint-Germain, is 27.
Upon releasing the roster, Menezes sought to take pressure off the team, saying the Olympics are not a reliable indicator of what will happen when Brazil hosts the World Cup in 2014.
“The real test for the 2014 World Cup will be at the Confederations Cup [in 2013], where we’ll play with our full national team,” he said.
Still, there will be pressure in London.
Brazil has won just two silver medals (1984 and 1988) and two bronze medals (1996 and 2008) at the Olympics. The Olympic gold is the only major title Brazil has failed to bring home to its fans in the land of soccer.
Leading Brazil’s pursuit of a gold medal will be Neymar, 20, the star player on the Seleção.
“I’m not worried about choosing one person or another to be the big name in London. My job as coach is to make sure the Seleção is the best team at the Olympics,” Menezes said. “I don’t want any player to feel like he’s under too much pressure.”
When Brazil takes the field, all eyes will be on Neymar. Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, for example, put Neymar on its list of the 10 players to watch at the London Games.
Brazil’s opponents will also have their eyes on Neymar.
During the quarterfinals and semifinals of the 2012 Libertadores Cup competition, against Vélez Sarsfield and Corinthians, respectively, the opposing defenders never let their guard down against Neymar.
“It’s getting harder and harder to play because everyone knows my potential,” said Neymar during a training session the day after the Olympic roster was released. “I have to figure out a new way to shake defenders (…), doing what I usually do, but with a little extra, some improvisation.”
Silva, the Seleção’s captain who is nicknamed ‘The Monster” because of his strength and technique, was on the bronze medal-winning team at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
“Being captain is a major responsibility, especially since we’ve never won the gold medal at the Olympics. But I’m ready,” he said on July 6.
Silva said winning the gold medal could help smooth the team’s path toward the 2014 World Cup.
“We’ve won back some affection from the fans after these most recent friendlies,” he said.
“People come up to me and say they support us. If we win, we’ll be able to feel calmer and more secure as we prepare for the World Cup.”
In pool play, Brazil will play Egypt on July 26, in Cardiff, Wales; followed by Belarus on July 29 in Manchester, England; and New Zealand on Aug. 1, in New Castle, England. The starting lineup is expected to be the same one that played the three friendlies in the United States in June.
The starting lineup is expected to include goalkeeper Rafael (Santos); right winger Danilo (Porto); defenders Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain) and Juan (Internazionale); left winger Marcelo (Real Madrid); defensive midfielders Sandro (Tottenham) and Rômulo (Vasco); midfielders Hulk (Porto), Oscar (Internacional) and Neymar (Santos), who, despite being a striker, will drop back slightly in to the midfield. The only question is who will be the other starting striker: Leandro Damião (Internacional) or Alexandre Pato (AC Milan).
Right winger Rafael (Manchester United) is also in the running for the position currently held by Danilo. In the midfield, Paulo Henrique Ganso (Santos) is recovering from surgery during the friendlies, but could crack the starting lineup.
The other players on the roster are goalkeeper Neto (Fiorentina), left winger Alex Sandro (Porto), defender Bruno Uvini (São Paulo) and midfielder Lucas (São Paulo).
Despite their relative youth, most of the athletes already play for major teams in Europe.
Of the 18 players on the roster, eight play in Brazil: goalkeeper Rafael, Oscar, Neymar, Leandro Damião, Ganso, Bruno Uvini, Lucas and Rômulo. However, following the London Games, Rômulo will leave Vasco to play for Spartak in Moscow, Russia.