Posted on August 10, 2012
By Michael Lewis
LONDON — Brazil finds itself on the cusp of history on Saturday.
The five-time World Cup champions can break a long and seemingly endless streak of not being able to win an Olympic gold medal with a victory over Mexico at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, despite its success on just about every international platform.
The South Americans have earned a record five FIFA World Cups, three FIFA Confederations Cups, eight Copa America titles, five FIFA Under-20 World Cup crowns and three FIFA U-17 championships, among other honors.
The failure has confounded and frustrated Brazilians for years.
“Unfortunately, it is a question that we cannot answer,” said defender Cafu, the only player to have performed in three FIFA World Cup finals. “We are looking for this answer for a long time. We don’t know why. It didn’t work. We are trying to fix this question.”
Added Juninho, a member of the 1996 bronze-medal winning squad: “It’s a tournament where things just don’t go right for us. Maybe we don’t prepare as well as we do for the World Cup. It’s not a lack of quality.”
So not surprisingly, Brazil has winning the gold medal a priority at this year’s London Summer Games. Brazilian Football Confederation president Jose Maria Marin doesn’t want the Olympic team to be used as an experimental side to prepare for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which Brazil will host.
“A team on the pitch cannot be used a laboratory, we have to show our best,” he told Reuters.” Every time a Brazilian team goes onto the pitch, whether it be masculine of feminine, they have to give everything.”
Marin said that he would not guarantee that national coach Mano Menezes would keep his job if the team fails to win the gold.
If it happens, it wouldn’t be the first time that a Brazilian coach was sacked due to Olympic failure. Wanderley Luxemburgo, who refused to use over-age players because he over-valued his talent, was shown the door after Brazil was eliminated by Cameroon in the 2000 Sydney Games quarterfinals. In some quarters, it was considered the most humiliating defeat since losing to Uruguay at the 1950 FIFA World Cup final.
Menezes decided to take the plunge and the risk to direct the team, even if it will put his job on the line if his team doesn’t bring home the gold.
“I am never going to play safe just to keep my job,” he was quoted in the most recent edition of World Soccer. “There are obvious risks and pressures, but you simply can’t obsess about getting fired. My job is also about overseeing a generational transition and above all, to stimulate a change of attitudes on the pitch. For me, this shirt is more important than sitting in the dugout in two years’ time.
“I have learned in football not to work with ‘ifs.’ I have been trying to get the strongest possible team together for the Olympics and I understand how important this competition has become to Brazilian football. But somebody needs to keep cool at the moment, and as the manager, I need to be the first one to take a deep breath. The pressure has always existed in the national team.”
Dunga, the captain of the Brazilians side that won the 1994 World Cup and the coach of the 2008 bronze-medal winning team, said it will be different this time.
“Brazil has never had the appropriate preparation for an Olympic tournament before now. In the past, coaches had just days to prepare a team,” he said. “This year I think Brazil’s more prepared and the players that they’ve assembled are all the best in their individual teams. Neymar, Lucas and Damiao are really important players. Oscar, as well. They’re doing great stuff not only in the domestic tournament, but also Copa Libertadores and even some European tournaments.
They have to take advantage that Argentina isn’t there. Obviously, [Great Britain] will be a favorite because they’re playing in their country. But there’s a big opportunity for Brazil to win an Olympic medal.”
The Brazilians have teased themselves and supporters, winning silver medals in 1984 and 1988 and the bronze in 1996 and 2008.
They lost in the 1984 final to France, 2-0, and to the Soviet Union in extratime in 1988, 2-1. They enjoyed a 3-1 advantage over upstart Nigeria in the 1996 semifinals, only to see the Africans rally to prevail in a comeback for the ages in extratime, 4-3. Brazil settled for a bronze, getting their medals after the third-place encounter and not waiting for the traditional ceremony after the gold-medal match.
In the 2008 semifinals, the Brazilians were eliminated by Argentina as their archrivals earned the gold for the second consecutive time. Brazil settled for another bronze.
Categories: Mexico, North America, Olympic Qualifying
Tags: 2012 London Olympic, Cafu, FIFA Confederations Cup, Jose Maria Marin, Juninho, Mano Menezes, Pele, World Cup