CARDIFF, Wales -- Looking for its first Olympic gold medal, the Brazilian men’s national team brought more firepower to the London Games than perhaps any other nation. With high hopes come high expectations, and the star-studded South Americans couldn’t have gotten off to a hotter start in their opener.
But it was the way they finished that should have some concerned.
Playing with a squad that is probably more talented than the United States’ senior team, Brazil kicked off its 2012 Olympics schedule by scoring three straight goals in the first half before falling apart after halftime as it barely held on for a 3-2 victory over a resilient Egypt squad at Millennium Stadium on Thursday night.
Controlling the midfield and at times making Egypt’s defenders look like true amateurs, Brazil showed in the first 45 minutes why it is among the favorites - along with Spain - to stand at the top of the medal podium in two weeks. Then a lack of offensive power and poor defending in the second half showed why it may not be as good as everyone thought.
“They have more experience, they are very good talent and they have the big stars… they have everything to win the gold medal,” said Egypt head coach Hany Ramzy after the match. “But after 3-0 in 45 minutes, I think everybody just felt comfortable given their play and felt the game is over.”
Leandro Damião, Rafael and Neymar found the back of the net in the opening half of the U-23 game, and it was all fun and games for Brazil and its many supporters among the 26,812 in attendance. It’s unclear what Ramzy said to his team in the locker room, but the Pharoahs looked like a whole new squad coming out of intermission and completely stole Brazil's momentum.
"These are details on the match, some that you just can't understand," Neymar said. "We had difficulties coming from the break, but now the victory is all that matters. We have to work on these details so we don't make the same mistakes again and ease the things for our opponents."
Players often say it's all about the 'three points' after picking up a win no matter how they may have earned it. While that may be true, Egypt figured out Brazil's defensive weaknesses and the Samba Boys may not be so lucky if a better team - like, say, Spain in the knockout stage - does the same.
"We entered the pitch [in the second half] a bit more relaxed and we allowed them to grow in the game," new Chelsea signing Oscar said. "They also came up with a different strategy, which made things harder for us."
With a team of stars named Neymar, Oscar, Pato and Hulk, Brazil is still in good shape. But coach Mano Menezes - who couldn't get the senior squad past the quarterfinals of Copa America last year - will need to first have his players hold off on partying until the final whistle has blown. Or he'll be out of a job, and Brazil fans will once again be without a gold medal.
“I think they’re going to learn from this," Ramzy said. "They are going to learn that the game is not 45 minutes, it’s 90 minutes or maybe more."