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Rio Olympics 2016: Can Neymar lead Brazil to their first ever gold medal?

All eyes will be on Neymar when the forward steps foot in Rio, but can he finally win them a much eluded gold?

Neymar is the biggest player featuring at the Games

Brazil’s star man at the Olympics will be Neymar Jr. The Barcelona forward is considered as one of the three best players in the world at the moment alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Brazilian may not have achieved as much as the duo but unarguably he has his best years as a footballer ahead of him. Neymar will be leading his national team at the Rio Olympics in his motherland and we discuss why he will need to secure a gold medal for his nation at Rio 2016.

Brazil’s recent form has been disappointing

The Brazilian side has not fared well in major competitions since they lost 7-1 in the semi-final of the 2014 FIFA World Cup to Germany. The team had undergone a change in the managerial department after Luiz Felipe Scolari had resigned post the World Cup debacle. Dunga, a former Brazil player, took over the team for his second stint as manager of the national side.

He took his country to the 2015 Copa America on the back of ten consecutive wins in friendly matches which included wins against Argentina, Japan, France, Chile and Mexico. But Brazil failed to get past the quarterfinals stage of the tournament when they lost 4-3 to Paraguay on penalties. Hence, the South American nation was also unable to qualify for the FIFA Confederations Cup (to be held in 2017) for the first time in 20 years.

Meanwhile, Brazil were also disappointing in the qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup to be held in Russia. The Seleção have only won two games – 3-1 against Venezuela and 3-0 against Peru. But the team lost to Chile 2-0 and had drawn the remaining three qualification matches with a 2-2 scoreline against Uruguay and Paraguay and 1-1 against Argentina.

Also read: Rio Olympics 2016: 5 biggest names in football taking part in the Summer Games 

However, the country had followed this run with a morale-boosting 2-0 friendly win against Panama going into the 2016 Copa America Centenario. But they could not produce any magic without the talisman Neymar Jr in their ranks. The team succumbed to a 0-1 loss to Peru in the last game of the group stages when they needed at least a draw to qualify for the knock-out phase. This led to them getting eliminated from the tournament and Dunga getting sacked for a second time in his career.

But when we talk about the Rio Olympic Games, it could be Brazil who can recreate their magic through the young players they have in their ranks. As stated earlier, the team will see the return of their captain Neymar Jr. who has only been allowed to play at the Olympic Games by his club Barcelona.

Neymar’s rise to the top

Neymar’s journey has been nothing short of a fairytale – In 2003, he joined Brazilian club Santos as a child who loved to play football. Six years later, he made his debut for the club at the age of just 17.

He later went on to help his club win the league and Cup double the following season, thereby getting voted as the 2010 Player of the Year. He finished the season with an impressive 42 goals in 60 games in only his second season as a professional footballer.

Neymar helped his Santos side in winning the double in 2010

His rise in domestic football was followed by his exploits in the 2012 London Olympic Games, where he scored three and assisted three goals for his country. Even though Brazil lost the gold medal match to Mexico, Neymar had won millions of Brazilian hearts with his football.

Amidst all big European clubs vying for his signature, Neymar decided to pen a deal with Barcelona. His fairytale got even better as he helped the La Liga giants in winning the treble in only his second season at the club.

Along with his exploits at the club level, Brazil’s number 10 has also amassed an impressive 46 goals in 70 games for his national side, making him the fifth highest scorer for his country – at the age of just 24. The forward has recently signed a new deal at Barcelona which keeps him at the club until 2021 – making him the highest paid footballer.

However, the Barcelona man is not known for his leadership qualities as he has played in the shadows of Lionel Messi at the La Liga side. But when he leads his Brazil side against South Africa on 4 August in Brasilia, it will be an opportunity for him to silence his critics.

Different challenge awaits Neymar and Brazil

At the Olympics, Brazil will have to beat the likes of –  South American rivals Argentina and Mexico, Under-21 Euro finalists Sweden and Portugal, Africa’s Nigeria and the almighty Germany – to have a chance at their first Olympic gold medal.

The five-time world champions have previously reached the Olympic finals on three separate occasions – losing all of them – 2-0 to France in 1984, 2-1 to Soviet Union in 1988 and 2-1 to Mexico in 2012. They have also won the bronze medal two times as they beat Portugal 5-0 in 1996 and Belgium 3-0 in 2008.

The Olympics will give a platform to Neymar and the youngsters to bring back the glory days in the middle of a transition phase in Brazilian football. The Barcelona star’s performances for his national side in the past mean that the team will be depending on him to lead their juggernaut. The beneficial factor for Neymar is that he also has quality players with him in Bayern Munich’s duo Douglas Costa and Rafinha, Santos’ Gabriel Barbosa and PSG’s Marquinhos.

These players are experienced enough to perform at major competitions, having featured in the Champions League before. The other advantage that Brazil has is that, unlike the other sides who are participating, they have targeted the Olympic gold medal since the start. 

Most of the sides will be sending their B-teams to the competition because of the Euros and the Copa America, meaning that there will be no other star player who can better Neymar’s profile. This is Neymar’s chance to cement his place as one of the best players in the world if he can go on and win the Olympic gold for his nation.

He can team up with Costa and Barbosa to form an attacking trio upfront which cannot be matched by any other side at the Games. Costa and Marquinhos are beautiful crossers of the ball, hence the hosts can be dynamic in their approach – they can use a direct approach through the centre of the pitch – or they can also play with attacking fullbacks and wingers to get the crosses into the box.

Neymar could also be picked to start at the top of Brazil’s formation by their team coach Rogério Micale, meaning that the forward can also use his heading ability to rip the opposition apart.

More than 200 million Brazilians will be hoping to see Neymar perform to his full potential at a key stage in their football history. Brazil’s chances depend on how the Barcelona man can motivate his younger players and utilise his own talent to his team’s advantage. The country needs this gold medal desperately after having suffered a dip in form in the last few years and the players need to make their countrymen happy after having suffered so much in the build-up to the Games.

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