Faced with the pressure of being one of the host's big hopes for gold, Brazil's men's footballers failed to erase the ghost of the 2014 World Cup in its opening game of the Rio Olympics. As two years ago, the pressure is on intense for Brazil to deliver the ultimate prize. As well as being the favorite for gold in a sport that Brazilians love more than any other, it is also expected to finally deliver victory in the only major competition Brazil has yet to win.
Only one player, the captain Neymar, remains in this predominantly Under-23 Olympic roster from the squad that suffered the humiliation of losing 7-1 to Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinals. Still, the scars on Brazilian soccer remain. And a goalless draw with a South Africa team that was down to 10 men for more than 30 minutes in the capital Brasilia on Thursday, bringing boos from the crowd at the final whistle, was not the start anyone associated with the team will have wanted.
Along perhaps with Brazil's golden boy Neymar, who was denied on multiple occasions by the South Africa goalkeeper, nobody felt the burden of disappointment more than Gabriel Jesus. One of the two 19-year-old rising stars of Brazilian football, along with fellow forward Gabriel “Gabigol” Barbosa, Gabriel Jesus had been snapped up by Premier League giants Manchester City just ahead of the Games.
But with a golden chance to enhance his reputation yet further and a winning goal staring him square in the face, he instead struck the post.
“It's a goal I have to score,” he said afterward. “My duty is to score that goal. I cannot fail. I'm very upset and will not even sleep tonight.”
Neymar was blunt, too, about the level of disappointment.
“For us the draw is a defeat," he said. "The team went on the field to win, we know our responsibility, we know it isn’t going to be easy. It is not just a case of turning up and winning the gold medal."
The opening result only increases the pressure on Brazil to get a victory in its second match of the group stage against Iraq, back in Brasilia, on Sunday night. And one of the tournament's underdogs may well be fancying its chances of getting a famous result.
In just its second appearance in the Olympics, Iraq came a way from an opening game against Denmark with a goalless draw. That result very much keeps its hopes of alive of finishing in the top two in the group and just perhaps matching the achievements of its only previous trip to the Olympics. Then, in 2004 as the war in the country was raging, Iraq pulled off a sensational, uplifting result by going all the way to the semifinals and only narrowly losing out on a medal.
Prediction: It promises to be another tense occasion for the host, with huge pressure to get a win under its belts. Brazil's much-hyped attacking three simply didn't click against South Africa, yet still there were flashes of their potential. Iraq has already shown it is unlikely to be a pushover. Still, a team with Brazil's talent should not be shut out for a second straight 90 minutes.
Predicted Score: Brazil 2-0- Iraq