London Olympics 2012
Gold eludes Brazil again
Romario couldn’t do it, Bebeto couldn’t do it, Rivaldo couldn’t do it, Ronaldinho couldn’t do it. Neither could Brazil’s latest poster boy Neymar. The weight of history proved far too much for Mano Menezes’s young Selecao and their dreams of Olympic gold crumpled to dust on the picture-perfect Wembley turf on Saturday.
Mexico were their latest conquerors, as two goals from the dynamic Oribe Peralta saw them coast to a 2-1 win at the home of football. It also provided a re-run of football’s oldest narrative; that collective discipline beats individualism every time.
For Brazil, the galling part was that both goals came from largely avoidable errors. The first, after just 25 seconds, came after the Manchester United right-back Rafael was caught in possession by Javier Aquino and the ball broke for Peralta to send an emphatic finish inside Gabriel’s near post. It was the fastest goal in Olympic history and the fastest ever in the final of a FIFA tournament.
The second goal after 75 minutes, saw the Brazilians leave Peralta inexplicably unmarked from a set-piece to place a header into the bottom corner of the net.
By then though, they game was almost over.
Brazil, looking uncharacteristically uninspired had struggled to employ any measure of control on the game throughout. They were not helped by the head-scratching tactic of Menezes of employing the defensive minded Alex Sandro in place of Hulk in the starting line-up. It seemed neither Menezes nor Sandro was sure of what the latter’s role in the line-up was as he was consistently shuffled either left or right after Menezes finally corrected his error following a painful half-hour in which Brazil failed to muster a single effort on goal.
The newly-introduced Hulk soon remedied that statistic with a pile-driver from range that the Mexico goalkeeper Jose Corona did well to keep out. But that was the one bright spot in an insipid Brazil display in the first half.
The South Americans showed signs of life early in the second half but despite some good probing by Oscar and Neymar, there really was no finishing quality to the approach play. The Santos star missed the most presentable opportunity when he side-footed over the bar after the ball had broken to him inside the box.
Mexico though, were always threatening on the break and were unlucky not to grab a goal when Marco Fabian only managed to hit the bar after being set clean through on goal from another defensive lapse. But Mexico need not have worried because moments later and from a soft free-kick Peralta made sure that the El Tri would crown an emerging nation of talented footballers with the gold.
For Brazil, Hulk’s goal at the end and the silver medal will provide scant consolation for a performance lacking in vigour, belief or fantasy; three of many qualities that had made them such a name to be reckoned with in the past.
The serial champions of Brazil have not won a title in three years, and even that was the Confederations Cup. Their last title of any significance was the Copa America in 2007 and the pressure will indeed intensify on Mano Menezes, who was tasked with the responsibility of building a Brazil side capable of winning the World Cup at home in 2014.
Not all is wrong however, and using just this final as evidence of an inquest into the state of Brazilian football would be a knee-jerk reaction. Indeed, it had all started so promisingly for Brazil, as their exuberant attacking play throughout the Olympics had won them many admirers across the breadth of Great Britain. London, then was supposed to be their crowning glory, the final denouncement in a play that had seen their other great challengers, Spain and Uruguay fall by the wayside early. The stage it seemed was set for Brazil to finally win the one trophy that still eludes them.
But Mexico were not to be written off. Their recent titles in youth level showcase a team who show grit to go with their flair and on Saturday at Wembley they showcased exactly that, proving far more astute tactically than the naïve Brazilians.
The South American’s take the Olympics seriously, so much so that the great Ronaldo was famously asked just moments after the World Cup triumph in Asia in 2002 whether he would be leading the side into the Athens Games in 2004.
There comes a time for every nation when the past stops being an inspiration and starts to become a burden. For the Brazilian’s their failure in London would suggest that the Olympics seem to have reached that stage already.
-With The Daily Star input