Brazil's path to the final

Thu, Aug 09 2012


Though I'm not at home right now, I'm all too aware of how excited the country is at our recent successes in the Olympics, perhaps even more so as a native of Bray.


In Brazil, however, the Olympics seem to be passing on relatively unnoticed, most likely due to the few medals collected by Brazilian athletes.  At the time of writing, the nation of nearly 200 million residents has received ten medals.  Their best ever showing at the Olympics is 15, which they got in 1996 and in 2008.


Despite the fame and strength of their national side, Brazil have never won the gold medal in the football tournament in the men's or the women's event.  The men's team have two silvers and two bronzes and the women's team two silvers, which came in the last two tournaments.


The Brazilian Olympic team is being managed by Mano Menezes, the senior team manager.  Menezes is tasked with building a team that can win the World Cup when it comes to Brazil in 2014.  In preparation, his side have mostly been playing friendlies for the past two years, with the Copa America tournament of last year his only competitive experience.  Worryingly for him and fans of A Seleção, the side put in an underwhelming performance and were knocked out by Paraguay in a penalty shoot-out in which they missed all four of their penalties.


This performance and lack of competitive practice has seen the world's most famous football team slide down the FIFA rankings to 13th position, the first time they have ever been outside the top ten and the lowest position they have ever held since the rankings were introduced in 1993.  After the 2010 World Cup, Dunga was dismissed, with a lot of criticism levelled at his defensive style of play.  However, Mano Menezes, although a popular choice on appointment, has continued with seemingly defensive tactics.


In this tournament, Menezes has named a strong attacking squad, and with the World Cup just two years away, it can be seen that he is trying out a lot of the up-and-coming stars of Brazilian football.  The three over-23 players in his squad are Thiago Silva, Marcelo and Hulk, players that are fixtures in the senior side.  Add to that, only two (goalkeepers Gabriel and Neto) of the remaining fifteen players have not made an appearance for the senior side.


In their squad are the likes of Neymar, Leandro Damião (the tournament's top-scorer), Chelsea's new signing Oscar, PSG's new record signing Lucas Moura, Sandro of Spurs and Alexandre Pato.  This is far from a weak squad.


So far in the tournament, Brazil have scored three goals in every game.  They beat Egypt 3-2 in their opener, although they were 3-0 up by half-time.  Then, they beat Belarus 3-1, despite going behind to a goal by Brazilian-born, Belarusian-naturalised Bressan.  Their final group game was a routine 3-0 win over New Zealand.  In their quarter-final with Honduras, they made it tough going.  They went behind twice before finally overcoming their nine-man opponents.


In the semi-final, they were lucky to hold South Korea at bay and come out on top with a 3-0 victory.  The scoreline does not reflect how close the game really was.


In the final, they will take on Mexico, another unbeaten team, although they have not won their matches as comfortably as the Brazilians.  Brazil will be the favourites on Saturday afternoon (morning here) but they will need to focus if they are to overcome the Mexicans.  They have the quality but it has been evident in this tournament that they have lacked concentration at times.  


My prediction for the final: It will be a cracker and Brazil will pip it by a goal.