RIO DE JANEIRO• • Neymar covered his face and fell to the ground in disappointment at the final whistle, not wanting to look at the scoreboard that flashed 0-0 in Brasilia.
As boos rang from the near-capacity 70,000 crowd around the Mane Garrincha Stadium, Brazil's captain knew that his side had got off to a poor start in their quest to land Brazil a first gold from the Olympic football competition.
They had also failed to provide joy to millions of their countrymen, for whom football is religion and who expect their national Olympic team to deliver success, two years after a humiliating 7-1 defeat by Germany in the semi-finals of the World Cup on home soil.
Instead of launching the Games in style, Brazil stumbled on Thursday against a South Africa side reduced to 10 men for the final half hour.
Neymar and Brazilian football's new golden boys Gabriel Barbosa and Gabriel Jesus, who completed a US$35.4 million (S$47.5 million) move to Manchester City on Wednesday, tried their best. However, all were thwarted by some resolute defending.
Later Neymar slammed the draw as a loss and insisted there would be no easy path to a maiden Olympic gold.
"For us the draw is a defeat," he said. "The team went on the field to win, we know our responsibility, we know it isn't going to be easy. It is not just a case of turning up and winning the gold medal."
Football gold is also seen as a key to winning the hearts and minds of a Brazilian public, who are divided over the big money spent on hosting the greatest show on earth at a time of huge financial crisis.
Rings of boos from the 70,000 home crowd at the final whistle of the goal-less draw with South Africa.
But once again Brazil failed to live up to expectations despite also having the talents of Barcelona's Rafinha and Marquinhos of Paris Saint-Germain in their ranks.
They endured a frustrating afternoon on a sandy and slow surface as South Africa held out despite Mothobi Mvala receiving a red card half an hour from time.
Neymar had two of Brazil's best chances, forcing goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune to make dives to keep out two rasping drives from outside the box.
Jesus, however, smacked the ball off the post from two metres out when it looked easier to score, while Barbosa should have done better when he scuffed a shot with only the keeper to beat.
"That's football," Santos star Barbosa said. "Sometimes the ball doesn't go in the net."
South Africa's Lebo Mothiba had a host of chances to cause an almighty upset, but failed to make a ragged Brazilian defence pay for early nerves.
"The first game is always the most difficult due to the anxiety of the competition starting," said Neymar. "I think the anxiety hurt us a bit.
"We are going to come across difficulties. We need to know how to overcome them, but we need to remain calm and do things well so that we can play well on Sunday."
Next up for Brazil are Iraq, who drew 0-0 with Denmark in their Group A opener.
The hosts' troubles were slightly eased as eternal rivals Argentina lost 0-2 to Portugal in their opening Group D match in Rio.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS