Mano Menezes (Photo: Reuters)
Coach Mano Menezes expects Brazil to face early difficulties in its quest to a first Olympic gold in football despite a favorable draw for the London Games.
Tuesday’s draw at Wembley Stadium in London put Brazil in Group C along with Egypt, Belarus and New Zealand.
Menezes said Egypt will likely be one of Brazil’s toughest opponents. The teams met in the Under-20 World Cup last year and Brazil only managed a 1-1 draw in the group stage before going on to win the tournament.
“Egypt gave us problems and it was a very complicated match, very tough,” Menezes said. “It could be the same thing again in the Olympics, especially taking into consideration that it will be the first match, with all the expectations surrounding it.”
Many of the players from that match are expected to be at the Olympic tournament, which is played with under-23 squads, although three overage players can be included.
Brazil has never won the Olympic gold and it is the only significant football trophy the five-time world champions don’t have. The tournament is considered a priority for the Brazilian football federation and Menezes said he will take his best squad to London, including players such as Neymar, Paulo Henrique Ganso and Alexandre Pato.
Brazil will face Egypt on July 26 at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, then it will play Belarus at Old Trafford on July 29 and New Zealand in Newcastle on Aug. 1.
Menezes said the match against Belarus should also be taken seriously by the Brazilian squad.
“It’s a team with great quality, it played well in the under-21 tournament which served as a qualifier,” Menezes said.
Menezes said his staff watched closely the U21 European Championship to analyze possible opponents at the Olympics. Spain won the title over Switzerland, and Belarus earned a spot for the London Games by finishing third.
The Brazilian football federation website said Menezes thinks that New Zealand can’t be taken lightly despite being considered the group’s weakest team. Brazil beat New Zealand 5-0 when they played in the group stage in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Despite having two-time FIFA player of the year Ronaldinho on that squad, Brazil was eliminated by Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the semifinals, eventually winning the bronze over Belgium.
Brazil won Olympic silver in 1984 and 1988, and bronze also in 1996.
Menezes has already selected a list with 52 players eligible for the tournament in London and Ronaldinho was included, but his disappointing performances with Flamengo recently may cost him a spot in the final team. Kaka and Robinho have already been left out. Menezes will release a list with 35 players on June 8, and the final 18-player squad will be announced on July 6.
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