Olympics: From double 0-0 to heroes, a golden dream stays alive

Above: Gabriel Barbosa scoring his second goal to round off Brazil's 4-0 thrashing of Denmark at Fonte Nova Stadium in Salvador. Both teams advanced to the knockout phase. Right: People watching the game on TV outdoors at a bar in Rio, dressed in jum
Above: Gabriel Barbosa scoring his second goal to round off Brazil's 4-0 thrashing of Denmark at Fonte Nova Stadium in Salvador. Both teams advanced to the knockout phase. PHOTO: REUTERS
Above: Gabriel Barbosa scoring his second goal to round off Brazil's 4-0 thrashing of Denmark at Fonte Nova Stadium in Salvador. Both teams advanced to the knockout phase. Right: People watching the game on TV outdoors at a bar in Rio, dressed in jum
Above: People watching the game on TV outdoors at a bar in Rio, dressed in jumpers and sweaters on a cold winter night.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

It is five minutes before 10pm on Wednesday night on the trendy Avenue Olegario Maciel and swimming is on the seven television screens in one of the bars. American Michael Phelps is scheduled to compete in the 200m individual medley semi-finals.

Suddenly everything turns green. No algae issues here, just grass. Brazil are playing Denmark in a must-win Olympic football game and all the television sets on the street have also flipped channels.

Sorry Michael.

 
 

The bar manager increases the volume to maximum on all screens but there is no need. All Brazilians are qualified commentators on their national team's woes, which have reached a nadir after the 7-1 thrashing by Germany at the 2014 World Cup and two back-to-back flops at the Copa America.

Removing former manager Dunga was key to a fresh start, said undergraduate Lucas Trapani, 25. "He was hopeless and ruined Brazilian football. Under him, it was tackle, tackle, tackle. There was no goals, no attack, no fun."

All three ingredients that defined samba football were in abundance though, during the 4-0 win over the Danes, the goals flowing as freely as the Bohemia (the country's oldest beer). The band across the street, meanwhile, paused from their bossa nova set for a rendition of Mas Que Nada - from the famous Nike commercial of Brazil's 1998 team kicking the ball around an airport - when Luan scored Brazil's third just after half-time.

Men on a cigarette break dashed back to the bar for the goal replays while one guy was oblivious to his supper and bored-looking date. That is what Brazilian football does.

While the nation's love affair with the Selecao continues to be on rocky ground, the hunt for that elusive Olympic gold by the Under-23 team remains a gripping tale. Santos striker Gabriel Barbosa, whose brace bookended the victory, is seen by many as crucial to this success.

Explained Luiz Felipe, 24, sitting next to classmate Trapani: "We identify more with this team. Most of them play here and not overseas. Support for the Brazilian team has dropped but everyone still watches our Brazilian league and we hope this team do well."

Fickleness however, extends to any opinions on captain and icon Neymar, who has yet to score.

Sales manager and Rio native Joao Miguel, 41, like many of his compatriots, was left exasperated by the forward's contribution.

He said: "There's too much pressure on him and he tries to do everything himself. It is a young team but he must trust the others more."

After 64 years without Olympic football gold coupled with shock defeats in all three final appearances, faith - as the tables of English and Argentinian fans at the bar will attest to - can be hard to come by.

Noted Trapani: "Brazilians are like that. After the first two games (two goal-less draws against South Africa and Iraq) we thought the team were useless. Now, we think this is the best team in the world."

The biggest cheers of the night however, came near the end of the match as the swimming night races was shown on a split screen. Phelps was up but all eyes were on the Brazilian Thiago Pereira who finished third and qualified for the final.

On land or in water, Brazilians love their heroes.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2016, with the headline 'From double 0-0 to heroes, a golden dream stays alive'. Print Edition | Subscribe