Big names seek gold for hosts

Rafinha, Anderson and Gabriel picked with Neymar for Brazil's Olympic football squad

Neymar (right) playing in an exhibition match after the final of the Neymar Jr Five tournament in his hometown of Praia Grande. The football gold is one of the most coveted by the Olympic hosts.
Neymar (right) playing in an exhibition match after the final of the Neymar Jr Five tournament in his hometown of Praia Grande. The football gold is one of the most coveted by the Olympic hosts.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

PARIS • Barcelona star Neymar was, as expected, named in the Brazil squad for the Olympic football tournament on Thursday, as well as Paris Saint-Germain defender Marquinhos.

Also selected were Neymar's club-mate Rafinha, Lazio midfielder Felipe Anderson and rising star Gabriel Barbosa.

Neymar had previously indicated that he wished to play for Brazil in both the Copa America Centenario (June 3-26) and the Olympics next month, but Barcelona would only allow him to participate in one.

The Catalan club did not want to lose their striker for an extended period of time amid fears that playing in both tournaments could affect his preparations for the new Spanish Primera Liga season.

The Brazilian football confederation had asked for Neymar's release and was in talks with Barcelona for several months before coming to a compromise - that he would play only in the Olympics.

Barcelona are not obliged to release the player for the Olympics, according to Fifa rules, but had to do so for the Copa America Centenario in the United States. However, the deal was agreed for Neymar to play in the Olympics instead.

Brazil have never been Olympic gold medallists in this sport. They are in Group A of the tournament, along with South Africa, Iraq and Denmark, and open against the Africans on Aug 4 in Brasilia. The tournament kicks off the day before the official start of the Games as Fifa rules require teams to have a minimum 48 hours between matches.

Elsewhere, Argentina have named Atletico Madrid's Angel Correa and Giovanni Simeone, son of the Spanish club's coach Diego, in their Olympic squad.

Correa is one of five players based abroad. The others are West Ham midfielder Manuel Lanzini, Real Sociedad goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli plus forwards Jonathan Calleri and Lucas Romero, who play in Brazil for Sao Paulo and Cruzeiro respectively.

Notable absentees are strikers Paulo Dybala of Italian champions Juventus and Mauro Icardi of Inter Milan, after Argentina had serious problems securing the release of players for their 18-man squad.

"We got the team out with forceps," Argentina Olympic Committee president Gerardo Werthein told La Nacion after fearing last week he might not have a squad for the Games.

Coach Gerardo Martino quit on returning from last month's Copa America, where Argentina were runners-up to Chile, after discovering he had just nine players confirmed in the squad for Olympic training last week.

Julio Olarticoechea, who was looking after the Under-20s, replaced Martino and will hope to become the second member of Argentina's 1986 World Cup-winning team to steer his country to the Olympic title after Sergio Batista in Beijing.

The champion team in 2008, who included Lionel Messi, retained the crown won by Argentina four years earlier in Athens but the country failed to qualify for the 2012 London Games.

River Plate striker Simeone was top scorer with nine goals in as many matches in the South American U-20 championship, which Argentina won in February last year to book their Olympic ticket.

Argentina meet Portugal, Algeria and Honduras in Group D.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2016, with the headline 'Big names seek gold for hosts'. Print Edition | Subscribe