Whenever anyone from the Brazil squad at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012 is interviewed, one word in particular keeps cropping up: pressure. Yet those involved with A Seleção Brasileira have got used to the fact that the quest for that elusive Olympic gold brings with it more tension and expectation than you would imagine for a nation that has won five FIFA World Cups™.
“There’s always a lot of responsibility that goes with representing A Seleção,” said Neymar a few days ago, in conversation with FIFA.com. “And, in the case of the Olympics, which is a competition Brazil have never won, that burden’s even greater.”
What's more, two days prior to Brazil’s opening game at London 2012 – against Egypt on Thursday at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium – coach Mano Menezes had to once again field questions about that missing space in the well-stocked Brazilian trophy cabinet.
“We know this is a title we’ve never won before, but it’s quite simply impossible to go back in time and win the gold medals we’ve missed out on,” said Menezes, already in Cardiff with his team, on Brazil’s best finishes of silver at Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988 and bronze in Atlanta 1996 and Beijing 2008. “So, all we can do is focus everything we’ve got on winning this time around.”
Thorn in the side
This situation sees Menezes and his charges trapped in something of a vicious circle. Given their footballing pedigree and seemingly endless conveyor belt of talent, Brazil’s failure to yet win gold imbues every new Olympic campaign with a level of importance bordering on the obsessive.
All of which means A Canarinha are always obliged to assemble their strongest possible squad and leave no stone unturned in their preparations, which again keeps them firmly among the favourites but piles more pressure on the players’ shoulders. Not that this comes as a surprise to the Brazil coach.
“We’re used to it by now: Brazil are invariably among the favourites at the start of every competition they enter,” said the coach. “But we’ve gone into tournaments as favourites in the past and won, just as we’ve gone into others [as favourites] and lost. It’s totally normal for those nations that are enjoying a good spell of form, such as Spain and Uruguay, to be listed as the pre-tournament favourites, while Mexico have also had a great build-up.
“Then you’ve got the Great Britain team, who are playing on home soil, and Brazil, who are always on that list,” continued Menezes. “But we know that the favourites tag will only mean something once the tournament starts.
“A clear example of how it can mean very little came at EURO 2012, when the Netherlands, the  World Cup runners-up, were heavily backed to begin with but fell at the first hurdle. Whatever we might say, it all has to be backed up out on the pitch.”
As if there were not enough factors making the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament a crucial engagement for Brazil, it must also be remembered that the way this Seleção fare will be seen to reflect directly on their chances at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil.
And having qualified automatically as hosts for the showpiece in two years’ time, Brazil need to take full advantage of this opportunity for competitive action. Indeed, London 2012 is only Menezes’ second tournament since taking the Brazilian helm, with the first a quarter-final exit on penalties against Paraguay in the last eight of the 2011 Copa America.
“I think we’ve had a better run of form now [in the build-up to the Olympics] than we did before that Copa America, and that’ll be reflected out on the pitch,” concluded Menezes, dealing with the pressure with his customary stoicism. “As far as criticism is concerned, we’ve had it before and we’ll get it now. It’s simply proportional to the sheer importance of this job. I’ve never tried to kid myself about that.”