Olympics

Brazilian Olympic soccer team on brink of first-round exit

Brazil's Neymar reacts at the end of a group A match of the men's Olympic football tournament between Brazil and Iraq at the National Stadium in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2016. The game ended in a 0-0 draw.
Brazil's Neymar reacts at the end of a group A match of the men's Olympic football tournament between Brazil and Iraq at the National Stadium in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2016. The game ended in a 0-0 draw. AP

So much for restoring national pride in Brazilian men’s soccer.

Brazil’s team, featuring superstar Neymar, is on the brink of first-round elimination after a pair of scoreless ties against South Africa and Iraq. No, that is not a typo. Brazil has played 180 minutes against South Africa and Iraq and been unable to score a single goal.

They need a victory over group leader Denmark on Wednesday in Salvador to guarantee a spot in the quarterfinals. Denmark is two points ahead of Brazil going into the match. Brazil could advance with a tie, only if the South Africa-Iraq match ends in a low-scoring tie.

Coming into these Olympics, the Brazilians were thinking gold medal. They were seeking redemption after a humiliating 7-1 semifinal World Cup loss to Germany two summers ago. Neymar was advised to skip Copa America and focus on the Olympics, the one major international trophy the five-time World Cup champions have never won.

And, yet, here they are again, in crisis on home soil.

Fans are so fed up that they have begun jeering Neymar. Late in the game against Iraq, they chanted: “Marta! Marta!” in reference to the Brazil women’s team star.

Brazil possessed the ball 77 percent of the time against the Iraqis and were unable to score. After the match, coach Rogerio Micale said: “We need to apologize to the fans, to the people of Brasilia. We didn’t play our best football. We feel like we left our fans frustrated.”

Neymar has spoken very little to the media since the start of the tournament, choosing instead to walk past reporters and sit alone on the team bus after matches.

The Olympic struggles come a month after the senior national team lost in the group round of the Copa America Centenario, after a loss to Peru and a 0-0 tie with Ecuador. The Olympic team is made up mostly of Under-23 players, but they are an experienced bunch. Only seven play professionally in Brazil, the rest play overseas. And with Neymar and rising star “Gabigol” in yellow jerseys, everyone figured it was Brazil’s gold medal to lose.

Gold? How about a goal? Of all the bad publicity this country has had to endure in the lead-up to these Olympics, a first-round exit by its soccer team might be the one that sends locals into despair.

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