Rio Olympics 2016: 1 day to go

Olympics: The one gold Brazil wants

A nation expects Olympic glory at last as Micale has the strongest squad and home advantage

RIO DE JANEIRO • Brazil has barely got over its World Cup disaster and now it is counting on Barcelona star Neymar to finally deliver a treasured first football Olympic gold medal.

Olympic gold is the only international title to elude Brazil in an illustrious history that has seen it win a record five World Cups.

The men's team have won the silver three times and the bronze twice. And they are under pressure to win the title in a tournament that starts today, a day before the opening ceremony.

  • PLAYERS TO WATCH

  • DHURGHAM ISMAIL (IRAQ)

    The 21-year-old has already established himself as one of the top left-backs in Asia. He is also comfortable playing further up the pitch.

    AZUBUIKE OKECHUKWU (NIGERIA)

    Only 19, the midfielder, who plays for Turkish club Yeni Malatyaspor, is already a full international. He was named the African Under-23 Championship's best player last year and is linked with a move to Monaco.

    TAKUMA ASANO (JAPAN)

    Fast, with a fondness for running at defenders, the 21-year-old was recently snatched up by Arsenal.

    KWON CHANG HOON (SOUTH KOREA)

    Considered the country's future star, the 22-year-old was the top player of the Asian U-22 Championship despite not being fully fit. The attacking midfielder scores and creates goals .

    MAX MEYER (GERMANY)

    The diminutive playmaker, who has been capped at senior level, has Bundesliga and Champions League experience. The 20-year-old is quick , creative and has an eye for goal.

    ANGEL CORREA (ARGENTINA)

    The Atletico Madrid striker has skill, pace and outstanding shooting ability. The 21-year-old is also good at passes and crosses.

Brazilian football is in desperate need of a pick-me-up after the humiliating 7-1 semi-final defeat by Germany at their own World Cup two years ago and a group-stage exit at the Copa America Centenario in June.

Golden boy Neymar has been untarnished by the failures.

Two broken vertebrae suffered near the end of a quarter-final win over Colombia left Brazil without their talisman against the Germans two years ago.

And, as part of an agreement between Barcelona and the Brazilian federation, Neymar skipped the Copa, which sealed Dunga's fate as Brazil coach for the second time, to ensure he is fresh for the Olympics.

Rogerio Micale will be in charge after leading Brazil to the Under-20 World Cup final last year.

Like the fans, he also expects Neymar to deliver.

"I want to be dependent on Neymar," he said. " Which coach in the world would not want a Neymar in their team?

"Neymar has exceeded my expectations. He is appreciated, he's a good guy with a huge heart especially around the younger players.

"He has shown that he is more than just a great player - he's a great man admired by everybody."

Neymar was part of the Brazil side who were shocked by Mexico in the final of the 2012 Olympics, while the likes of Ronaldo and Ronaldinho have also come up short when charged with delivering gold.

However, Brazil are strong favourites to end their wait as, on top of home advantage, they also possess by far the strongest squad on paper.

Each team is restricted to just three players over the age of 23 in their 18-man squads.

Wonder kids Gabriel Barbosa and new Manchester City signing Gabriel Jesus, both 19, will support Neymar in attack.

Paris Saint-Germain defender Marquinhos, 22, and Neymar's Barcelona team-mate Rafinha, 23, are also in the squad.

Brazil open their campaign against South Africa in Brasilia, one of six Olympic football host cities, today, before facing Iraq and Denmark in Group A.

Their biggest threat is likely to come from eternal rivals Argentina.

Atletico Madrid's Angel Correa and Giovanni Simeone - son of Atletico manager Diego Simeone - formed a lethal partnership in scoring 13 goals to win last year's South American Under-20 championship to qualify.

They face Portugal in the match of the opening round at the Rio Olympic stadium today. Honduras and Algeria complete Group D.

World champions Germany can call on the experience of the 27-year-old Bender twins - Lars and Sven of Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund - as two of their overage players.

A return to Brazil holds particularly fond memories for Dortmund full-back Matthias Ginter, who was part of the German squad that won the World Cup two years ago.

Ginter has shown his commitment to the cause by flying almost 20,000km in four days as he headed back from China with Dortmund on Friday before jetting off to Brazil.

"I'm still young and you have to take the chances offered to you. The Olympics are special. We're all motivated and want to reach the final in Rio," said the 22-year-old.

Germany start against 2012 gold medallists Mexico in Salvador before facing Fiji and South Korea in Group C.

Group B appears the closest to call as Sweden, Colombia, Nigeria and Japan all start with realistic ambitions of reaching the quarter-finals.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2016, with the headline 'The one gold Brazil wants'. Print Edition | Subscribe