Olympic Football Tournaments Atlanta 1996 - Men

Olympic Football Tournaments Atlanta 1996 - Men

20 July - 3 August 1996

Olympic Football Tournaments 1996 - Men

Zagallo still Flying High

Any team hoping to take the men's gold medal at the 19th Olympic football tournament, which carries a lot of prestige in South America, will have to get past Brazil - as can be seen from the concentrated efforts being made by coach Mario Zagallo and the great new team he has selected.

Mario Jorge Lobo Zagallo, to give him his full name, celebrated his 63rd birthday on 9 August 1994. Not many people would have believed it, even though he is the only man on earth who could call himself a quadruple World Cup winner: in 1958 and 1962 he was the "false" left winger in the team that contained pele and garrincha, in 1970 he was the newly appointed national team coach and in 1994 assistant to Carlos Alberto Parreira.

But on that 63rd August birthday, Ricardo Teixeira, president of the national association, gave Zagallo, well known for his "discretion", the present of his life, as he himself admits: " He asked me if I'd like to be national trainer again. I didn't have to think, I just asked who my assistant would be."

Since that day the apparently shy, discrete and reserved Zagallo has been probably the most successful trainer in the world, even if his next major objectives have yet to be achieved: "Oro olimpico e Penta" - meaning Brazil's first Olympic football gold medal and their fifth World Cup win in France 1998 - that is what he and his team have in their sights.

Inspired personalityJudging from the way he has achieved his aims in the last few years and the huge pool of young talent, already with international experience, it would not come as much of a surprise if this short white haired man carried off the spoils in the USA.

He has described himself an "inspired personality".

And last April, in the 100th international match under his guidance, he showed true inspiration. His Olympic squad, basically identical to the national "selecão", were trailing against South Africa, the new champions of their continent, 0:2 down at half-time. Zagallo's strategy seemed a little illogical - he replaced an attacking midfielder with a defensive player. On came the 19 year old Ze Elias, captain of the junior team that had been runners-up in their World Championship in Qatar. And the "new Dunga" made it possible for Rivaldo and Flavio Conceicao to do more for the offence. These two got the goals that levelled the game at 2:2, and Bebeto added the final touch with a half-volley decider.

Zagallo and two of his assistants could not resist doing a little "aeroplane mime" on the pitch.

The Olympic preparations began back in October 1994 with a 5:0 win in Chile. Zagallo was able to pick from a superb pool of talent - many of the hopeful players already held down regular first team places with some of the big clubs or even had international A experience: players like the two goalkeepers, Dida and Danrley, the two left backs Roberto Carlos and Andre Luis, the barely 18 years old Ze Elias, Juninho, Amoroso, Ronaldo and Savio. They were also in the squad for the Copa America in 1995, losing the final against Uruguay in Montevideo on penalties. At the Olympic qualifying tournament in La Plata, Brazil and Argentina came through decisively. They were watched on this occasion by FIFA President João Havelange, General Secretary Joseph S. Blatter and members of the International FA Board, which was holding its annual meeting in South America for the second time in its history. The two big names of South American football gave an effective demonstration of their readiness for the Olympics, with Uruguay, still the only South American country to have won Olympic football gold (1924/28), and the rest of the continent unable to keep pace.

Aldair in the squadZagallo's biggest problems will be in reducing the squad down to 18 players and naming the three over 23 players allowed by the regulations. His line of thought is illustrated by the way he voted as national coach in the selection of the FIFA Footballer of the Year 1995. The overall ranking was 1. Weah, 2. Maldini, 3. Klinsmann, but Zagallo's list read 1. Bebeto, 2. Ronaldo, 3. Aldair.

Aldair's place as one of the over-23s has been pre-selected, since not many top clubs use a young player as a central defender, and Aldair fits the bill well. The 24 year-old Rivaldo had also earned a place with his impressive performances since last January. One place left. For Romario, who seems to have overcome his 1995 slump? Zagallo's comment: "I have one free sport for Bebeto, Romario or Marcelinho. I will have to disappoint two of them."

Brazil's team is looking great at the moment, with an average of over 4 goals per match, and players like Rivaldo and striker Luizao, Amaral and Flavio Conceicao in defensive midfield, all of whom are likely to be around for the World Cup in France in 1998.

Alongside Luizao, the attack will be strengthened by Ronaldo (if he is fit) and Caio, voted the best player at the World Youth Championship in Qatar last year.