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Egypt, Belarus and New Zealand are likely to battle it out for second place and a spot in the quarter-finals, with Mano Menezes' team heavy favourites to cruise into the last eight

By Oliver Platt

Group C promises to present an exciting spectacle due to its mix of star quality and competitive action.

Brazil, boasting the combined talents of Neymar, Oscar and Thiago Silva, among others, are clear favourites to run away with first place but the race to join them in the quarter-finals is wide open.

Egypt will rely on the experience and skill of Mohamed Aboutrika, Belarus are led by Russian Premier League goal-scorer Sergei Kornilenko while Ryan Nelsen and Shane Smeltz offer plenty of experience to complement New Zealand's young players.

The prize at the end of it all for the group runners-up? A probable date with Spain.

BRAZIL

OVERVIEW

They have lifted five World Cups and eight Copa Americas but never have Brazil won Olympic gold. Without a medal until the tournament turned professional in 1984, the Selecao have placed second and third twice each since the Games in Los Angeles but the top of the podium has continued to evade them.

Dunga named a squad of similar strength in 2008 when Brazil were stopped in the semi-finals by an Argentina team that must go down as one of the finest to have ever entered an Olympic competition.

Spain will provide the closest challenge this time, but coach Mano Menezes will not have to contemplate the prospect of facing Luis Milla's team until the final provided both countries win their respective groups.

PLAYER TO WATCH

All eyes will be on Neymar but his Santos team-mate Ganso enters the Games looking to resurrect his career. The midfielder has suffered from injury problems, the burden of pressure and a subsequent loss of form and confidence.

He will leave Santos this summer, and this could prove his last chance to impress potential suitors.

COACH

Mano Menezes is the man in charge of the senior Brazil team and, unlike many of his counterparts, will also coach the Under-23 side in London.

The 50-year-old guided Gremio to the Brazilian top flight and the Copa Libertadores final before helping Corinthians back into Serie A following their shock relegation. They were Paulista state champions the following year.

PREDICTION

The spine of the Brazil team – running through Thiago Silva, Sandro, Oscar and Neymar – will, on paper, be unmatched at this tournament.

The challenge for Menezes is turning this promise into reality but the signs looked good against a reasonable Great Britain team in their pre-Olympic friendly. The final is probable, and gold is possible.

EGYPT

OVERVIEW

Egypt will rely on the combined attacking talents of Al-Ahly duo Mohamed Aboutrika and Emad Motaeb, both over-age players,  this summer.

The duo, along with Mohamed Barakat, the third member of the club's high-profile 'Bermuda triangle', retired following the riots at Port Said that resulted in the cancellation of the 2011-12 Egyptian Premier League season but have all now returned, although Barakat has not been picked for the Games.

The Pharaohs have qualified for the tournament an impressive 11 times but have not featured since the finals in Barcelona in 1992, when they placed third, below Spain and Qatar, in their group. With Aboutrika, twice nominated for the CAF's African Footballer of the Year award, they will hope to go one step further this time around.

They have had plenty of preparation, sending similar squads to the Toulon Tournament and Arab Nations Cup in May and June, although they suffered defeat in their last pre-Games friendly against Honduras' Olympic team.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Marwan Mohsen might be described as something like the James Milner of the Egypt Under-23 team, having won 32 caps for the youth team, a figure higher than any other player in the Olympic squad.

It's easy to see why he is continually picked; Mohsen has netted 20 goals in those matches and has also put three away in his six senior team appearances.

COACH

A defender during his playing days, Hany Ramzy enjoyed a distinguished career in which he set the transfer record for an Egyptian player when he joined Werder Bremen in 1994.

He was named the 19th best player in 50 years of African football by the CAF in 2008, placing fourth among Pharaohs players.

PREDICTION

The draw, with all due respect to Belarus and New Zealand, has been kind to Egypt and they will expect to progress out of Group C as runners-up. In the quarter-final, however, they are likely to meet Spain and that should be where their journey ends.

BELARUS

OVERVIEW

"I think Brazil are the favourites of course," Belarus coach Georgi Kondratiev told Fifa.com in June. "But otherwise I think we’re at the same level as New Zealand and Egypt."

That is what it will come down to for Belarus, who are competing in the Olympic football tournament for the first time since completing their transition to independence in 1991 following the break-up of the Soviet Union.

They will not rely on over-age stars in their quest for progression; Kondratiev has used two of his three over-age slots to select Stanislaw Drahun and Renan Bressan, who only narrowly missed regular eligibility having been born in 1988.

Belarus sealed qualification by finishing third in the European Under-21 Championship in 2011, proving their credentials by beating Czech Republic – who had knocked out England in dramatic style – in the third-place Olympic playoff.

PLAYER TO WATCH

By far the most experienced player representing Belarus at the Games, Krylia Sovetov striker Sergei Kornilenko is also the only member of the squad who plays his club football abroad.

He has scored 12 goals in 52 games with the senior team and is a proven scorer in the Russian Premier League, bagging seven in 17 last term and 11 in 15 while on loan at Tom Tomsk during the 2010-11 campaign.

COACH

Georgi Kondratiev was capped 14 times by the Soviet Union and won the Soviet Top League with Dinamo Minsk in 1982 – the only league title the club ever won during the union.

There, will have learned a few techniques from the legendary coach Eduard Malofeev, who was ridiculed during an ill-fated spell at Hearts but is remembered best as the purist rival to Valery Lobanovskyi's scientific approach at Dynamo Kiev.

PREDICTION

Belarus face Egypt in the final round of group fixtures – both teams will be disappointed if they fail to pick up points against New Zealand, so it could prove the decisive fixture in the race to join Brazil in the quarter-final. Goals have been a problem, so Kornilenko's form will be key.

NEW ZEALAND

OVERVIEW

At an advantage due to the ease with which they are usually able to progress through qualification in Oceania, New Zealand's Olympic football team are participating at their second consecutive Games, although they had never qualified before 2008.

In Beijing they performed reasonably, losing to Brazil and a strong Belgium team having drawn with hosts China in their opening match.

Ryan Nelsen played four years ago and enters the tournament still a Premier League player aged 34. He is likely to be joined in central defence by Tommy Smith of Ipswich Town, experienced striker Shane Smeltz and West Brom prospect Chris Wood will lead the attack – in both boxes, New Zealand look competitive.

Problems could arise in the make-up of the squad; while the majority of players are aged 20-22 and based in New Zealand or England, the team is filled out by youngsters such as Tim Payne, 18, and Cameron Howieson, 17. Nelsen will need to lead the quick development of an atmosphere of togetherness.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Kosta Barbarouses has been prolific for New Zealand at youth level and scored four goals in five games during qualification for the 2008 Games, but was not selected for Beijing.

He moved to Russian club Alania Vladikavkaz in 2011, but has joined Panathinaikos on a season-long loan for the upcoming campaign and could be rejuvenated by the prospect of returning to the country of his parents.

COACH

Englishman Neil Emblen earned the New Zealand Under-21 job this year and will take up Olympic duties as part of his role. His success with Waitakere United in the country's top flight brought him to prominence; Emblen has won three consecutive championships in New Zealand in three years of management.

PREDICTION

New Zealand may have a simple path through qualification to reach the Olympic Games but rarely will they arrive at the football tournament facing a group as evenly-matched as this one.

With Brazil comfortably the best team in the group, New Zealand are good enough to battle for second place with Egypt and Belarus. Achieving a positive result against both sides will be a difficult task, though, leaving progression looking unlikely.

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