KEIR RADNEDGE in BRASILIA —- Brazil have never invested so much, apparently, in their pursuit of Olympic football gold. Right now the women look a better bet than the men after Neymar & Co were held goalless by Iraq in their quest for a first Games gold.
The investment boast had been made by the CBF’s controversial president, Marco Polo del Nero, in a welcome message for visitors (and presumably opponents) at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. But he is being short-changed by both his own leadership failings and by the young men who, while sharper and more incisive than in their Group A tie against South Africa last Thursday, look more like a shaky credit card than hard cash.
They have now played two games without a goal and must beat Denmark in their last group game to ensure progress to the knockout stage. Not exactly what Del Nero had in mind when he boasted about not only the money and the quality of players but the “skilful and interdisciplinary teams from performance analysts to dieticians.”
He noted also that “we try to put the teams close to the fans” but right now it;s much too close for comfort. The fans, while generously supportive in the first half in the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha here in Brazil, began to lose patience as soon as the referee’s halftime whistled sounded.
Brazil’s national team and the torcida have long been out of tune and coach Rogerio Micale did nothing to encourage a song in unison matters when fans who travelled to the Ceilanda training centre the day before the game found the session being conducted behind closed doors.
Adults and youngsters were disappointed at being snubbed but Micale insisted that absolute peace had been essential to try to right all the wrongs of the performance against South Africa when Brazil failed to capitalise on all their possession even after Bafana Bafana were reduced to 10 men by expulsion for the last halfhour.
Micale said: “We understand the fans were disappointed on Thursday. So were we. We need the fans to get behind us but if they do not do so then we will treat it as if we are playing an away game and that will also make us all the more determined.”
Brazil did look more aggressive and, for half the game, more cohesive. Neymar and Gabriel Barbosa wen close in the first half which ended with Renato Augusto clipping the top of he Iraqi crossbar.
But the second half was one long journey into nightmare. Iraq keeper Mohammed Hameed – who came in for the usual Latin American abuse every time he took a goal kick – played soundly but did not need to be a Yashin lookalike to hold this Brazil at bay.
For all their pressure the hosts’ evening had a drear destiny written all over it. Even with seven minutes of stoppage time. Even with Renato Augusto arriving in front of an open goal after five of them.
He was off target, of course. So, unless they find a magic wand, will be Brazil.
Denmark 1 South Africa 0
** A second half goal from substitute Robert Skov and some brilliant goalkeeping from Jeppe Hojbjerg saw Denmark end the Group A drought with a 1-0 victory over South Africa in Brasilia.
Bafana Bafana, while short of luck in attack, forgot all the principles of defensive commitment and concentration which had served them so admirably in holding hosts and gold medal favourites Brazil in the same Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha last Thursday.
In first half Gift Motupa had a shot tipped around the post by Hojbjerg and then struck the crossbar, as did Keagan Dolly from 25yd just before the interval.
Denmark, in return, might also have scored but Brentford’s Lasse Vibe, when clean through, saw keeper Itu Khone tip his shot for a corner.
The early stages of the second half were marked – or marred – by passing from both sides which would have shamed a pub league team.
South Africa kept ploughing forward, without a lot of invention, but Motupa was twice brilliantly foiled again by Hojbjerg before Silkeborg’s Skov slipped away on the break to score. It was the first goal in the group matches after almost 250 minutes.
In the last minutes South Africa, having used all their substitutes, were reduced to nine men as both Abbubaker Mobara and Mulo Mathoho were carried off, the one by keeper Khune and the other on a stretcher.
In such circumstances there could be only one winner and the Danes appeared almost disbelieving as they celebrated at the final whistle.