Brazil Olympics Soccer Team: 7 Players Who Must Be at Their Best to Win Gold
Brazil has never won Olympic gold in soccer. It remains the last major tournament the Samba Kings have yet to conquer.
A young, dynamic team and ambitious coach hope to change that at London 2012. This summer Olympics is both a practice run and testing ground for the team that will bear an enormous weight of expectation when Brazil hosts the World Cup in 2014.
With that in mind, senior international coach Mano Menezes is fielding one of the tournament's strongest sides, lavishly stocked with an intriguing blend of talent and experience.
But with outstanding teams like Uruguay and Spain standing in the way of Olympic gold, Brazil's players will have to be on top of their game if they want to succeed where illustrious predecessors like Romario, Lucio and Ronaldinho have failed.
Here are seven players whose form will determine if Brazil can finally win soccer gold.
1. Thiago Silva
One of Brazil's three over-age players, the AC Milan centre-back will captain his team at the Olympics.
Thiago's defensive savvy and leadership skills will be indispensable if Brazil has any hope of making it to the top podium.
2. Rafael Cabral
A likely quarterfinal meeting with Uruguay awaits Brazil, and first-class goalkeeping will be a must against the tournament's most potent front line of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.
At just 22, Rafael has big-game experience that belies his age. Although relatively new to the international side with just two caps, the Santos keeper has been key to his club's success both domestically and in the Copa Libertadores and the FIFA Club World Cup.
5. Oscar or Ganso?
Mano Menezes has a choice between two outstanding creative midfielders in the No. 10 role.
The tournament will provide Oscar with a perfect opportunity to showcase the talents that made him a must-have transfer target for Chelsea.
Another Chelsea target, Porto's Hulk will need to prove his scoring prowess.
The forward's athleticism, pace and versatility are valuable assets to any side; but what Brazil needs most of all from Hulk at the Olympics is goals. With AC Milan's Pato struggling to live up to his early potential, Hulk is likely to be a key starter in London.
If Brazil is to progress to the final and challenge for gold, Hulk must live up to his "incredible" tag.
Few athletes at London 2012 will be under as much scrutiny as Neymar. The Santos sensation has garnered so much attention in his brief career, it's easy to forget he is still only 20 years old.
Nevertheless, the talented forward is the undisputed flag-bearer for Brazil's hopes not just at the Olympics, but heading into World Cup 2014.
Neymar is already a fixture in the Brazil national team, with 19 caps and nine goals at senior level. But questions remain about whether he is ready for the highest level of competition, having so far resisted a move to Europe.
Brazil's hopes of Olympic gold rely on Neymar proving he has more to offer than a haircut and a locker full of flicks and tricks. If he can play up to both his hype and undoubted potential, Neymar will not only electrify the tournament, but help Brazil beat their Olympic jinx.