Is Brazil’s cup half-full or half-empty after heartbreak at the London 2012 Olympics?

James Young
neymar 2 300x225 Is Brazils cup half full or half empty after heartbreak at the London 2012 Olympics?

Brazil striker Neymar

To Neymar, Thiago Silva, and the rest of Brazil`s crestfallen Olympians, the silver medals doled out after defeat by an admirable Mexico must have felt more like pewter. However, those decrying the state of the footballing nation, and baying for the head of coach Mano Menezes, might be jumping the gun.

Much has been made of Brazil`s so-called “Olympic obsession”, based on that elusive gold being the only major footballing prize the country has never won. Yet the level of this desire is often exaggerated, and probably does a disservice to Brazilian football fans.

Yes, Brazil wanted gold. But while sporting validation has long been a balm for a nation often riddled by self-doubt, it does not come at the price of a total loss of perspective.  At a bar in Goiânia, in the mid-west of the country, where I watched Saturday`s loss, most drinkers simply shrugged and went back to their feijão tropeiro and cerveja. The wailing and gnashing of teeth that followed 2010`s World Cup elimination against Holland was conspicuously absent.

Most right-thinking Brazilians know true footballing gold will be up for grabs in 2014, not 2012. With that in mind, the pressure created by events in London, both on Menezes and his young players, may have been more of an unwelcome distraction than anything else.

This is a team still firmly in the development phase. In contrast to other Olympic hopefuls Spain and Uruguay, Brazil has no experienced senior side ready to now trot back into action. The decline of once or potential greats such as Kaká, Ronaldinho, Robinho and Adriano means the team on display at Wembley was, by and large, also the country`s first XI.

True judgment of this team will only be passed in two years’ time. As respected journalist PC Vasconcellos said, “now isn’t the time to crucify this generation, or the work of Mano Menezes. Of course there’ll be scrutiny, but the project shouldn’t be interrupted.”

That scrutiny is likely to be intense. A few minutes after the final whistle, the legendary Romario was pulling no punches. “Menezes should never come near the Brazil shirt again. He`s weak. This defeat is all his fault,” he raged.

In reality, Brazil’s cup is a mix of half full and half empty. Taking the positives first, this remains a squad of considerable potential. Up front, the talent of Neymar and Oscar is unquestionable, though other much touted names such as Lucas and Leandro Damião still have some convincing to do at this level, and Paulo Henrique Ganso remains a major question mark. If Menezes can find a way to fit Chelsea`s Ramires into the mix, as he surely must, then the team gets stronger still.

A little further back, the squad appears well set at volante, with Sandro soon to be rejoined by Lucas Leiva. Spartak`s gifted Romulo has also done well, though would perhaps benefit from being a little less unassuming.

Full back is unlikely to be a problem, with Daniel Alves returning to join the swashbuckling Marcelo over on the other side. The side`s most glaring weakness is the lack of a partner in central defence for Thiago Silva. Inter`s Juan is clearly out of his depth at this level, and his failings even forced a change of strategy, with Porto’s Alex Sandro coming in to give the team more defensive beef.

Much hope will rest with Vasco`s Dedé, like Alves in the squad for this week’s friendly with Sweden, though it was surprising that Atlético Mineiro’s outstanding Revér was not also called up. If his electrifying club form continues, his 19-year-old teammate Bernard, an attacking midfielder, is a name to watch for 2014, as is that of Grêmio volante Fernando, and perhaps exciting striker Romarinho, scorer of another terrific winner for Corinthians yesterday.

So much for the good news. The downside of all this young talent is just that – its callow youth. Neymar may have carried Santos to the Libertadores title in 2011, but his shackling in this year’s competition by Vélez Sársfield and Corinthians has perhaps taken a little of the gloss from that triumph. He was ineffective at the Copa América last year, and while he sparkled sporadically at the Olympics, more might have been expected.

The same “unproven” status still applies to Oscar and Damião, though at least the former has shown a willingness to sink or swim with his move to Chelsea. Perhaps the acid test is to consider which of the above young forwards would strike fear into the hearts of battled-hardened international class defenders. The answer, for now, is probably none.

Experience will come, though it remains to be seen if Mano Menezes will be the man to see the team through to fruition. Appointed by the former Ozymandias of the CBF, Ricardo Teixeira, he is no favourite of current president Jose Marin, who left Wembley in a most disgruntled state on Saturday. Yet while Menezes` work has been far from perfect (that risible Copa America campaign is hard to overlook), Brazil have shown signs of improvement in recent months. Sacking him now, half way through a development project, would likely be a mistake, especially given the rather gloomy alternatives (pragmatists such as Santos` Muricy Ramalho, or Felipão) on offer.

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