Brazil scaled a sporting K2 to snatch its 23rd and last Olympic gold at London 2012. Twelve long-legged volleyballers lost two of their opening three first-phase matches to leave their hopes of the knockout phase; they saved a staggering six match points before eliminating Russia in the quarter-finals; and, against a USA side that had won 16 consecutive sets to reach the decider, the ladies in canary-yellow recovered from a disastrous start to complete a national fairy tale.
There is, however, an Olympic nightmare from which Brazilian are desperate to awake. For of those other 22 golds, not one is in the sport they consider a religion, and in which they boast a record five FIFA World Cup™ Trophies. And for Brazil, who first entered the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament in 1952, it has not been for the want of trying.
A team including Gilmar Rinaldi and Dunga - the senior Seleção’s present general coordinator and coach – lost in the Los Angeles 1984 final to France, while Taffarel, Jorginho, Bebeto, Romario and Careca were upset by Soviet Union four years later. The country’s selectors sent a star-studded team to Atlanta 1996 comprising Dida, Aldair, Roberto Carlos, Juninho Paulista, Rivaldo and Ronaldo. True to expectations, they led Nigeria 3-1 with 12 minutes remaining in their semi-final. Somehow, they lost 4-3 after extra time. Finally, at the most recent instalment in London, Thiago Silva, Oscar, Hulk and Neymar were stunned 2-1 by Mexico in a final most assumed a foregone conclusion.
There’s another almighty motive for which Brazilians are demanding redemption at the 2016 Olympics. A Seleção suffered two of the grandest upsets in World Cup history in front of their own fanatical supporters: a 2-1 loss to almighty underdogs Uruguay in the deciding match in 1950, and a 7-1 horrifying 7-1 defeat by Germany in last year’s semi-finals. Now they are desperate to extinguish their home-soil hoodoo in Rio de Janeiro by delivering the only major footballing title missing from their exceptional collection.
I want to be part of the squad for Rio and to deliver the title for the Brazilian people.
“I’ve been dreaming about playing in the Olympics in my country,” enthused Neymar recently. I had the chance to play in the Confederations Cup and the World Cup in Brazil. All that’s left is the Olympics.”
Neymar missed the thrashing by Germany in Belo Horizonte through injury, but he believes Brazil will have benefitted from it. “I think you can learn from everything,” he said.
“Wearing the Seleção jersey is indescribable. Wearing it in London is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Now I want to be part of the squad for Rio and to deliver the title for the Brazilian people. To win it at the Maracana would be amazing, unforgettable, and you can rest assured that we will give everything to make it happen.”
After a disappointing South American U-20 Championship campaign last month, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) on Monday announced it had overhauled its staff that will oversee the U-20 and Olympic sides, with coach Alexandre Gallo one of only two members to retain his position. Dunga and Gilmar Rinaldi were both present at a meeting of the new crew.
The CBF also disclosed that the Olympic team will play a friendly at home to Paraguay on 27 March, while Brazil will also compete in the FIFA U-20 World Cup and the Pan-American Games – an U-22 competition – over the coming months.
The squad that won the Wuhan International Tournament, which also featured Australia, China PR and Korea Republic, in November included some interesting names. Among them were Benfica prodigy Talisca, the so-called ‘new Rivaldo’, highly rated Lazio playmaker Felipe Anderson and Barcelona’s Rafinha, whose brother Thiago represents Bayern Munich and Spain. It remains to be seen if they will realise the dream of representing Brazil at Rio 2016, but one player’s participation is beyond doubt.
“Neymar is an incredible player, a great professional and a lovely lad,” said Gallo. “Brazil not taking him to the Olympics would be like Argentina [going to the World Cup] without Messi or Portugal without Cristiano Ronaldo.”