Brazil had more at stake than hosts Britain when the teams met in an Olympic soccer warmup in Middlesbrough yesterday.
Brazil go into the London Games looking not only for their first Olympic title, but also seeking to find the team and the style that will bring them success when they host the World Cup in 2014.
Coach Mano Menezes boasts one of the strongest squads in the competition, with Santos wonder child Neymar, highly rated midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso, AC Milan striker Alexandre Pato and Chelsea target Oscar among the under-23 players.
Porto striker Hulk, Real Madrid fullback Marcelo and defender Thiago Silva, who last week signed for Paris Saint-Germain for a reported 42 million euros (US$51.51 million), are the three over-age picks.
Although Brazil are favorites, Menezes, who has been warned he could lose his job if his team come home empty-handed, says that counts for nothing when the whistle blows.
“We are going to win, but we need to be better than the other side when we play,” Menezes said in Rio de Janeiro shortly before flying to Britain. “You don’t win by decree.”
His young side carry the weight of a nation on their shoulders.
Brazil have won world titles at every level, but never Olympic gold, and most Brazilians would gladly pass up victories in sailing, judo or volleyball if it meant they could finally get their hands on the elusive soccer winner’s medal.
However, for Menezes winning in London is only part of the deal. He must also shape and prepare his team to win the World Cup on home soil.
Brazil have no competitive fixtures between the Olympics and 2014, except in the relatively relaxed Confederations Cup next year, so this is a golden opportunity to see how the youngsters who will form the backbone of the team in 2014 handle the pressure.
It is also a chance to see if they are adapting to Menezes’ philosophy.
The former Corinthians coach has introduced a more attacking style of play than his predecessor, Dunga, and they appear to be learning from the Europeans, who press higher up the pitch and value possession.
However, although they have won 14 of 24 games since he took over two years ago, Brazil have failed to beat big teams Argentina, France, the Netherlands and Germany. Earlier this month, Brazil fell to 11th in the FIFA world rankings, their lowest ever.
Menezes told reporters he would start the game against Britain with an attacking formation that includes Neymar, Hulk and Leandro Damiao up front.
It appears to be a declaration of intent and perhaps a harbinger of the Brazil to come that former coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said was more like the Brazil of old.
“Brazil will have a very good team for 2014,” Scolari said earlier this year. “I think that we will have some problems at the back and lots of creativity and goals.”
Brazil are in Group C, meeting Egypt in Cardiff on Thursday, Belarus in Manchester on July 29 and New Zealand in Newcastle on Aug. 1.