South American countries traditionally take the Olympic men’s tournament more seriously than their European counterparts, so it’s no surprise that Brazil national team coach Mano Menezes and Uruguayan national coach Oscar Tabarez are managing their countries’ entries.
Brazil, which will play host to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, has never won a gold medal in the event, which is an under-23 tournament, with each team allowed three overaged players.
The Brazilians have a particularly eye-catching lineup, including Thiago Silva, widely considered the best centre-back in the world, and Hulk, a striker who plays for Porto in Portugal’s top tier and has a $100-million (all currency U.S.) buyout clause in his contract and has attracted offers in the range of $25-million from English clubs.
Brazil should be favoured, because five key members of its national team (Neymar, Alexandre Pato, Leandro Damiao, Oscar and Paulo Henrique Ganso) are under 23 and competing in the Olympics.
The possibility of a Spain-Brazil gold-medal clash is enticing, with two players who scored in Spain’s 4-0 win over Italy at the European championship final – Jordi Alba and Juan Mata – playing in the tournament along with Javi Martinez.
Defending gold medalist Argentina, which was led by Lionel Messi, and Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero, beat Nigeria in the final in Beijing but did not qualify for the London Games.
The host country’s team is not fancied: Manager Stuart Pearce controversially left David Beckham off the roster, and organizers were left with hundreds of thousands of unsold tickets. Great Britain’s team has been dogged by controversy since it was decided the team would be composed of players from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Home Nations, as they are called, normally compete separately. Britain’s match against Uruguay in Wales on Aug. 1 could be telling.
Gold-medal final:Aug. 11, 10 a.m. (Eastern)