It was third time unlucky for Brazil in the Olympic football final at London 2012. The Olympic football gold medal still remains elusive. In the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Brazil had midfielders Dunga and Mauro Galvao in their team but lost 0-2 to France in the gold medal match. In 1984 professionals were allowed to play in the Olympic football tournament for the first time. Four years later, in Seoul, Brazil had superstars like strikers Romario, Bebeto, Careca, defenders Jorginho and Ricardo Gomes and goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel in their ranks but were vanquished by the erstwhile USSR 1-2 in a closely fought final. Romario, Bebeto, Jorginho and Taffarel were in the Brazilian squad, which won the 1994 World Cup. Both Gomes and Careca played in the 1986 and 1990 World Cups.
On August 11 Brazil were overwhelming favourites to beat Mexico in the Olympic final. Mexico’s star forward Giovanni dos Santos was injured and could not play. Brazil also had an easier run up to the final and had massive crowd support. The re-built, historic Wembley stadium was a sea of yellow and vibrated to the beating of the drums and samba music. The raucous Brazilian fans were however silenced in the first minute. Right back, Rafael’s careless back pass with his head down caught skipper and central defender Thiago Silva moving up and allowed Mexico’s lone striker Oribe Peralta to nip in and score.
The jinx set in. The highly acclaimed Brazilian stars Neymar, Leandro Damiao (top scorer of the tournament with 6 goals), Oscar (midfielder who has joined Chelsea), Sandro (plays for Tottenham Hostspur) and substitute Alexandre Pato could not deliver. The fluid, attacking football, subtle passing and silky dribbling skills were missing. Brazil could not break down a well-organised Mexico defence. Leandro and Neymar were guilty of excessive dribbling and running into a maze of defenders and losing the ball. The Brazilian midfielders were sluggish and often conceded possession with inaccurate passes.
The highly rated Brazilian midfield quartet, Sandro, Romulo, Oscar and Alex Sandro playing in the diamond formation, showed little visionary passing and flair in launching attacks. They are not a patch on the brilliant quartet of Zico, late Socrates, Falcao and Toninho Cerezo, who played sublime, creative football in the 1982 World Cup.
The stylish, possession football expected of Brazil was missing. Neymar, often compared to Lionel Messi and hailed as the next super star of world football disappointed. He could not dominate the Mexican defence with his dribbling skills.
Mexico played in a compact 4-5-1 system and denied Brazil space and time. The Brazilian coach Mano Menezes, was getting increasingly frustrated as he saw his star players make repeated errors. Against Mexico’s packed defensive tactics it was expected that the Brazilian players would seek penetration with their individual skills. That is how Garrincha, Pele and Didi destroyed both USSR (quarter finals) and Sweden (final) in the 1958 World Cup and Gerson, Tostao, Pele and Jairzinho overcame dangerous opponents like England in the league stage and Italy in the 1970 World Cup final.
After the final, skipper Thiago Silva admitted that the team could not perform due to the pressure of winning an Olympic gold medal. Coach Menezes, was using this tournament to select players for the 2014 World Cup to be held in Brazil. He must be extremely disappointed for if this generation of U-23 Brazilian players could not cope with the stress of an Olympic football final, they would struggle with the excessive pressure of the World Cup.
In their starting eleven in the final, Brazil had seven players who ply their trade in the demanding professional leagues of Italy, England and Spain, so they should be used to high-pressure situations. Also as the new season had not begun, when the Olympics started, the Europe based professionals like Hulk, Marcelo, Thiago, Rafael and Sandro cannot complain of being jaded.
So the question arises that why did Brazil not deliver in the 2012 Olympic final. Is it just a jinx and pressure of winning the Olympic gold medal, the one title Brazil does not possess or is the problem more-deep-rooted? Is there a paucity of talent in Brazil? This would be hard to believe for their die-hard fans all over the world but facts seem to suggest so.
In July 2012, Brazil for the first time finished below the top ten in the FIFA rankings list. In August 2012, they have slumped to 13, an all time low. The dip in rankings, lack of creativity and individual skills and the lacklustre performance in the Olympic final are worrying signs for Brazilian football.
There was a lot of hype about several Brazilian players in their Olympic squad. Is this hype a creation of marketing agents or was the Olympic final just an aberration? Did the early goal conceded add to the pressure and make the team more error-prone? There are no easy answers. Menezes, appointed as coach till the 2014 World Cup has a lot of re-building to do, as his Olympic squad did not deliver.