With Brazil, the more things change the more they remain the same. Two years after the 1-7 humiliation by Germany in the World Cup semi-final, it has been a nightmare without end for the Selecao for whom coach Dunga has come and gone.
As if the early exit in the 2015 Copa America was not bad enough, Brazil went on to do one worse at the Copa Centenario last month. All that has increased pressure on the Olympic team. More specifically, on Neymar, who fronts the team going into a competition Brazil is hosting and have never won.
Captain back in boots
Neymar is one of the three over-23 players each team is permitted in the Olympics’ men’s football event. Barcelona requested that Neymar participate in only one international tournament this summer so that he stays fresh for the demanding season in Spain and Europe. So, Neymar chose to holiday while Copa America Centenario ended prematurely for Brazil.
Neymar too was in the USA at the time, shooting for his Hollywood debut, the upcoming action flick xXx: Return of Xander Cage.
Considering that Barcelona offered him a five-year contract extension with a rumoured salary of 15 million euros (R110.9 cr) a year, Neymar might not have thought twice about sitting out one of the tournaments.
But the choice of tournament on Neymar’s part is interesting since Brazil have never managed to win the football event (men’s or women’s) at the Olympics. They finished runners-up in 1984, 1988, and 2012 when Neymar was part of the squad. Having won silver in London, Neymar wants to go one better.
Neymar’s inclusion in the Olympic squad is most definitely touted as the brightest hope of Brazil winning gold. But as one Brazilian coach insists on his dependence on the forward, another feels pressure should be taken off the player.
Rogerio Micale, head coach of the Brazil under-20 team, who took up the Olympics assignment after Dunga’s departure, said: “I want to be dependent on Neymar. They say it’s not good to be dependent on Neymar, but I do not agree: I would always have a Neymar in my team.”
On the other hand, Tite, who has been named head coach of the senior side and would have coached the Olympic team if not for the poor timing of his appointment, has said: “It’s inhuman to put all the responsibility on one person. The responsibility should be on the trainer and on the other team members and when the time comes, on the one who has the quality to take responsibility.”
He cited the examples of Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal winning Euro 2016 despite the star player’s injury in the final and Argentina failing to beat Chile in the Copa Centenario final because of too much pressure on captain Lionel Messi.
Of Micale’s approach, Neymar has said: “He’s a great person and a great coach as well. He’s surprised me in all different aspects.” This was after his first training session with Micale and the Olympic squad on July 20.
His ever-growing stature as a star player since joining Barcelona and becoming captain of his national team has certainly pushed him more into the limelight. But his numbers speak volumes as well. He has scored 85 goals in 141 competitive matches as part of an impressive South American trident for the Catalan team alongside Messi and Luis Suarez.
Neymar is expected to be part of an intimidating trident for Brazil as well with Micale having tested out a system at the training base in Granja Comary, Teresopolis, which utilises Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Barbosa (aka Gabigol) on the flanks with the captain playing through the middle.
Here are the details of the men’s and women’s football events at the Rio Olympics: