RIO DE JANEIRO • After a none-too-impressive start to their Olympic football campaign, Neymar and Co will have to buck up when they take on Iraq in their second match today.
Following Brazil's 0-0 opening draw with South Africa on Thursday, the host nation's talisman, Neymar, was mercilessly cast as "greedy" and "missing" by the host nation's media.
The Barcelona star and his highly touted team-mates were expected to start on a winning note as Brazil bid to win their first Olympic football gold.
But, after they proved incapable of defeating a South African side reduced to 10 men for the final half hour, Neymar suffered the most severe backlash in the local press, especially for losing possession 27 times, more than double any other Brazilian player.
"Greedy Neymar becomes a problem in the Olympic team," said ESPN Brazil.
Commented Rio newspaper O Globo: "Inexplicably, Brazil did everything contrary to what they rehearsed and preached for 17 days (in preparation). Neymar was missing too."
Neymar defended his decision to act as more of a playmaker, comparing his role to that occupied by five-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi at Barcelona.
"Sometimes you end up playing according to a certain player. It's like how Barcelona play. Messi is the guy who plays more on the ball and we end up moving off the ball," he said.
"It's why we don't get bothered by touching the ball into Messi, that's what many people do not understand."
Brazil coach Rogerio Micale defended his captain, citing rustiness as Neymar had not played a competitive match since May 22 after skipping the Copa America in June.
"We have to see that he is coming off a long holiday and is regaining the pace of play," said Micale. "He will grow a lot during the competition, I have great confidence in him."
A slip-up against Iraq in Brasilia would be unimaginable for the hosts, but their opponents enjoyed the better of their opening 0-0 draw with Denmark.
In contrast to Brazil's short preparation time, Iraq have been in training camps across Europe for months, with the aim of surpassing their run to fourth at the Athens Games in 2004 when they beat a Portugal side containing Cristiano Ronaldo.
"For us it is an honour to be here," said Iraq coach Abdulghani Alghazali. "In Brazil, we have earned the sympathy of the local people. Our next game, against them, will be very important for us."