Brazil looks to capture 1st Olympic soccer gold
By TALES AZZONI,
Updated August 11, 2012
LONDON (AP) Brazil has a rich legacy in soccer, and some of the best players in the game have proudly competed in its jersey. What it doesn't have is an Olympic gold.
Mexico, which faces the team Saturday in the men's gold medal game, believes that it will need an "almost perfect" game to keep the Brazilians from getting it.
Brazil is the favorite going into the game. The team is counting on Neymar, a 20-year-old seen as the future of Brazilian soccer, to do what many great players before him have tried and failed to do.
"It's our third chance to win this gold and hopefully we will learn the lessons from the other finals we played and didn't win," Brazil coach Mano Menezes said.
Mexico has motivation, too: The team is also trying for its first Olympic title. Mexico coach Luis Fernando Tena loudly praised the quality of the Brazilian team on Friday and said he expects Mexico to have a lot of difficulties to try to win in the final at Wembley.
"They have a (solid) player in each position, I wouldn't even try to point out a weak point," Tena said. "We have to play a great game, almost perfect, if we want to win. It's very important to try to impose our game."
Mexico will be playing in its first Olympic final after a brilliant tournament run. Mexico's previous best showing at the Olympics was at the 1968 Mexico City Games, when it was beaten in the bronze-medal match 2-0 by Japan.
The Mexicans arrived at the London Games with an outside chance to win gold, while Brazil was considered the biggest favorite from the beginning because it brought most of its top players to try to win its first gold. Anything less will be considered a failure.
Mexico has won six of the last 12 matches against the Brazilians since 1999, losing four and drawing two.
Mexico actually beat Brazil in the last time the teams played, winning 2-0 in a game in the United States in June. Some of the Mexican players at the Olympics were in that match too, as were nearly all of the Brazilians who will be in Saturday's final, including young star striker Neymar.
"Neymar does worry us, but the rest of the team too," Tena said. "Brazil is a very strong team. If you look at the squad, you see they have players with great quality everywhere."
The Olympics are also an important test for Brazil's players, most of whom will also likely be in the team trying to help Brazil win next year's Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup at home.
Victory would give them an extra boost of morale and show fans the national team is on the right track, while defeat could raise doubts and even cost Menezes his job.
"We all know that we need to win the gold," Menezes said. "Brazil has to win every tournament it plays, it needs to win every match it plays, even if it's a friendly. And this time even more because it's something the nation has never won before."
Brazil is playing in the Olympic final for the first time since the 1988 Games, when the team led by Romario and Bebeto lost 2-1 to the then Soviet Union. Brazil also lost the final four years earlier in Los Angeles.
Bebeto, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Roberto Carlos got the bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Games, and Ronaldinho also finished third with Brazil four years ago in Beijing, when the team lost to Argentina in the semifinals. Ronaldinho also was in the team eliminated by Cameroon in the quarterfinals of the 2000 Sydney Games. Brazil didn't qualify for Athens in 2004.
Coaches who tried and never got the gold include Mario Zagallo in 1996, Vanderlei Luxemburgo in 2000 and Dunga in 2008.
"We came here for the gold and we are one match away from getting it," said Neymar, who has had three goals and several assists in the team's five victories. "We just have to do our job in the final."
The Mexicans won't be able to count on one of their top players, Giovani Dos Santos, who injured his right hamstring in the semifinals.
"It's a shame that Giovani, who is a great player with a great attitude, can't play," Tena said. "It's very painful for him and sensitive for the team, but at the same time this team has shown that it's very mentally strong and can overcome many adversities."
The team will try and overcome that, he said.
"We have the silver in our hands but we are not content with this, we are going for gold," Tena said.
Associated Press writer Luis Ruiz in London contributed to this report.
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