No-one can accuse Brazil, or their coach Dunga, of not taking the Men's Olympic Football Tournament seriously. Ronaldinho, twice FIFA World Player of the Year, was called up to the squad as an over-age player, as was Werder Bremen's elegant playmaker Diego. AC Milan's prodigy Alexandre Pato was there, as was Anderson of Manchester United. This was no scratch team.
Dunga was certainly going for gold, and gave every indication that he expected to get it. So what can Brazil take from what has been perceived, back home, as a ‘failed' campaign?
"We won five games, we only lost one, but even if you lose one game, people point the finger," said Diego, speaking exclusively to FIFA.com after the 3-0 win over Belgium in Shanghai. "I'm going home happy. It's better to go home with a bronze medal than none at all. Obviously, we wanted to win the gold medal, but it wasn't to be."
Brazil did not make the most convincing of starts in the group phase. They only saw off nine-man Belgium with a late strike, and although they dispatched their other group opponents, New Zealand and China PR, with little trouble, it was not quite the vintage Brazil that we have come to expect.
In the quarter-final against Cameroon, who had been able to conserve energy in their final group game against Italy, Brazil found the going tough. Dunga surprisingly omitted the young Alexandre Pato from his starting line-up, and Brazil looked a little blunt in the final third against the resolute Africans, who were reduced to ten men early in the second half and without influential midfielder Stephane Mbia for most of the match.
It was only when Thiago Neves was introduced that Brazil began to gel, and their numerical advantage eventually paid off in extra time: it must have been some satisfaction for Dunga that Brazil's second goal was perhaps the finest team effort of the tournament.
Agony against Argentina
Yet it all came unstuck against eternal South American rivals Argentina in the semi-finals. Were Brazil unlucky to be placed in the same half of the draw as Messi and Co? Did Dunga field too defensive a side against Sergio Batista's men, leaving both Alexandre Pato and Thiago Neves on the bench once more? Would things have been completely different had Ronaldinho's brilliant free-kick on 65 minutes gone in rather than cannoning back off the post?
Regardless of these talking points, history will only recall the Seleçao's comprehensive 3-0 defeat by the team they most dislike losing to.
"It is tough to lose to a big rival like Argentina, but they are a great team - and it just took five minutes for us to lose the game," continued the Werder Bremen star. "But that's football, you win some and you lose some. Unfortunately, we lost in a tournament - and we went out."
An uncertain futureSo what now for Dunga and his team? It will surely be crucial for Ronaldinho to regain his form with his new club AC Milan if he is to play a significant part in the qualifying campaign for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Despite some moments of brilliance in China, there were those who felt that he still had yet to recapture his true, let alone his best, form.
Critics, both in Brazil and elsewhere, have pointed to the physicality of Brazil's play at times in the semi-final. Will Dunga find the accusations of ‘negative football', anathema to most Brazilian fans, a millstone around his neck? Yet Diego believed that that there were plenty of positives to be taken.
"I don't think we've played negative football," he stated. "A lot of good things have happened here. For me and for the squad, participating in the Olympic Games was a unique thing, a great experience and we did win the bronze medal. Plus, as people saw, we had a united team," he concluded.
But are those things enough to placate the football-loving folks back home? Time will tell.