It has been a dismal two years for Brazilian football. And on Wednesday the most successful country in the history of the sport could suffer yet another huge blow to its already dented psyche. After two dismal goalless draws against New Zealand and Iraq, Brazil must beat Denmark to be sure of avoiding the devastating ignominy of being turfed out of the Olympic Games on home soil before the knockout stage has even begun.
The pressure resting on a young group of players going into the match with Denmark in Salvador is immense. They not only carry the weight of being expected to deliver Brazil its long sought after first gold medal in men’s football, but also the unmistakable regression of the country’s national team, which has culminated in dire recent major tournament performances.
The one that has left the biggest scar, of course, is the 7-1 humiliation at the hands of Germany, again on home soil, at the 2014 World Cup. But things have not gotten any better since. After a quarterfinal exit at the 2015 Copa America, Brazil was eliminated at the group stage at this summer’s Copa America Centenario.
That result meant that Dunga, who was scheduled to take charge of the team at the Olympics, was out of a job. Rogerio Micale, who held the role in preparation for the event, was instead given the sizable responsibility of delivering the one major international prize to elude the five World Cup winners.
Thus far, though, the 47-year-old long-time youth coach has only tasted the negative side of the brightest of spotlights. Boos poured down from the stands as Brazil, led by Barcelona star Neymar and the overwhelming favorite to claim gold ahead of the Olympics, failed to even find a single goal in its first two matches. Micale, though, insists his team can still answer its critics.
“There have been questions asked, but I still think we have great players, I still believe that,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “But we need to work. The world has evolved a lot, everyone has lots of information now. Football is scrutinized by everyone and it is easier to destroy players than it is to build them up.
“We ask the team to be determined, compact and look for the ball, to find that confidence, we haven’t found that yet. There is frustration, but the time of mourning must end now. We will strengthen. Criticism is normal and even deserved. We do not run away from that. But we want to give our answer in Salvador. We should be strong there and qualify.”
But Brazil is unlikely to find the going any easier in its final group game. Denmark needs just a point to guarantee progress to the quarterfinals and has yet to concede a goal in a draw with Iraq and 1-0 win over South Africa. It is far from a star-studded Denmark team, but it is solid and disciplined, two qualities that promise trouble for a Brazil side that has yet to get its front three of Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel “Gabigol” Barbosa firing.
Prediction: Given the pressure on the shoulders of a young team and the fact that Denmark has both the ability and motivation to keep things tight, it could be an extremely tense and difficulty night for Brazil in Salvador. Still, it is difficult to imagine a team with such considerable attacking talent failing to find the net once in three matches. The host may just be able to sneak out a vital win.
Predicted Score: Brazil 1-0 Denmark