Menezes’ job on the line as Brazil target gold medal
More than ever, it will be all or nothing for the Brazil men’s team in the Olympic football tournament.
Brazil have always been under pressure to win the gold medal, the only significant title they haven’t won in the game but there will be a lot more at stake for the five-times world champions this summer. Brazil will be one of the few teams with most of their top players and failure at the Olympics will probably cost coach Mano Menezes his job with the country due to host the World Cup in 2014.
The Brazilian federation has already said that gold is the priority this year and hinted that a disappointing result will prompt changes.
Most of the players in the Olympic team are likely to be in the World Cup as well and the competition in the UK will give many of the youngsters a chance to prove their worth.
Menezes said: “We know that our final evaluation ahead of the World Cup will be done during the Confederations Cup next year, when we will play with a team which won’t be restricted by the age limit.
“But it’s obvious that we need to play well in the Olympics to reinforce the convictions that we have about the team so far.”
Few teams will showcase their top players at the Olympics because it is played with under-23 squads and only three over-age players. But Brazil’s squad includes Neymar, Lucas, Alexandre Pato, Paulo Henrique Ganso, Oscar and Leandro Damiao.
“We have a strong group, we are taking players who are regular starters for some top clubs today,” Menezes added. “A lot of the young players will get a chance to start earning a spot in the squad.”
Brazil’s over-age players will be AC Milan defender Thiago Silva, Real Madrid left back Marcelo and Porto striker Hulk. Many in Brazil praised the squad picked by Menezes but there were critics, too. Former Brazil striker Romario, now a congressman, said: “He should have called players who are more respected abroad. There are plenty of other over-23 players he could have selected.”
Neymar is probably the one who was not doubted by anyone. The youngster is touted as the future of Brazilian football and the player expected to lead the national team at the World Cup. The Olympics will give him a chance to prove that he can indeed carry the country’s hopes for the future.
“I’m very happy to have the honour of representing Brazil at the Olympics,” he said on Twitter after the squad was announced. He had already said it would be a dream if he could help Brazil win their first gold. The 20-year-old, who was in the running for Fifa’s player of the year award in 2011, will be one of the tournament’s main attractions.
Adding to the pressure is the fact that Brazil head to the games only 11th in FIFA’s world rankings, their worst-ever position.
“The pressure will always be there, we have to live with that,” Menezes said. “But I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, we can use that in our favour.”
The has played four friendlies in preparation for the Games, beating Denmark and the United States and losing to Mexico and Argentina. Brazil won silver in 1984 and 1988, and bronze in 1996 and 2008, when Argentina took gold with Lionel Messi after beating a Brazilian team that included two-times world player of the year Ronaldinho.
Brazil will be one of the favourites along with hosts Britain and Spain, who won the European under-21 Championship last year to clinch a place in the Olympic tournament.
“Spain traditionally has done a good job preparing a youth team along with its main squad. It will also have some players from the team which won the Euros,” Menezes said, adding that Mexico may also be included among the favourites.
Not many other traditional football nations will be competing. Of the 16 teams in the men’s tournament, four will be making their Olympic debut – Senegal, Gabon, Belarus and the United Arab Emirates. Only three are previous champions – Britain (1908 and 1912), Uruguay (1924 and 1928) and Spain (1992).
Brazil is in Group C along with Egypt, Belarus and New Zealand. It will face Egypt on 26 July at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff then Belarus at Old Trafford on July 29 and New Zealand in Newcastle on 1 August.
Menezes has already acknowledged that Egypt are likely to be one of Brazil’s toughest opponents, especially because they are first up. While he knows that beating the last opponents in an eventual gold medal match is the only thing that will really count for Brazil, he is confident it can finally be done. “We are certain that we have a quality group of players who will give the Brazilian national team a chance to fight for the medal at the end,” he said.
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