Brazil are frequently among the favourites for whatever tournament they enter and this year’s Olympic Games are no different. Objectives are high for this group of Brazilian youngsters with many hoping that they can claim the country’s first ever gold medal in the competition as a building block to lift the World Cup which they host in two years time. A combination of factors make the pressure for glory huge and should the Selecao fall short in London, their ability to win the world title in two years will come into question.
The last time Brazil hosted the World Cup will hold painful memories. It was 1950 and in the second group stage of the tournament (a format used that once and then discarded thereafter) they faced Uruguay in a winner-takes-all final group game. A crowd of over 170,000 had crammed into the iconic Maracana in hope of witnessing the Samba nation lifting the world title for the first ever time. It would not happen. Despite taking the lead, Uruguay thought back and Alcides Ghiggia scored the decisive goal in the 79th minute that broke Brazilian hearts.
It is a moment that still causes much agony for the nation. While the defeat precipitated a change in the colour of their kit from white, which was not believed to represent the country enough, it has not been forgotten. This Brazil team now has the unenviable task of avenging that disappointment and lifting the trophy on its return to home soil.
The players will be aware of that game and what it meant, and still means, to the people of Brazil. This will provide a huge challenge for the Selecao, and it all begins at the London Olympics. And even the Games this summer do not come without a weight of expectation. It is the one title that eludes the national team, the one that got away. Brazil go into the tournament as favourites but that does not mean anything, as the 1996 Atlanta Olympics showed.
The team was touted as a golden generation. Dida, Flavio Conceicao, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Savio and Juninho Paulista were among the promising young names, while Aldair, Bebeto and Rivaldo made up the overage players. It was quite a squad and they were being tipped to walk to the gold and lay down the foundations for a World Cup victory two years later in France.
Brazil lost their opening game to Japan but ensured qualification by defeating Hungary and Nigeria in the following games. Ghana provided little resistance in the quarter-finals but Nigeria returned to haunt Brazil in the semi-final, winning 4-3 with a golden goal in the fourth minute of extra time. They restored some pride with the 5-0 trouncing of Portugal in the third-place play-off, but it was not enough.
Brazil may have won the Confederations Cup in 1997 but having qualified for the next World Cup as holders they did not endure the team building process of qualification. There they capitulated once again, this time in the final to the hosts. Dunga had been brought in to solidify the team but he failed to deal with Zinedine Zidane in the final, and along with the controversy surrounding Ronaldo’s performance in the game, it was a huge disappointment.
An inquiry as to why the team was soon launched back into Brazil, with everyone wanting to know why they failed. It is rare for such an inquisition to occur, but it shows the depth of passion that the nation holds for the game.
That fervent nature could also prove to be a negative come 2014. Brazilian fans are fickle by nature, quickly getting on the back of their side if they do not start well enough. Winning the London Games is important in order to win the supporters over. With two years to go and the Confederations Cup offering the only partially competitive environment, forming a strong team bond will be tough and so they will need the fans behind them.
If Brazil do not go home in August as Olympic champions, winning the World Cup will become a mountainous task. They have the squad to do it; Thiago Silva, Marcelo, Hulk, Oscar, Neymar, Ganso, Lucas Moura, Leandro Damiao and Alexandre Pato form part of an exceptionally talented starting XI and bench. While much of the team are still young and should improve with two years experience, failure to bring home the much-craved gold will leave an indelible mark. Should they crumble like the 1996 side, there will be worries they will follow a similar path at the subsequent World Cup.
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