South Korea vs. Brazil: Olympic Men's Football Semifinal Preview
Brazil's seemingly irresistible march to their first ever Olympic men's football title continues on Tuesday night when they take on South Korea at Old Trafford.
Mano Menezes's team have looked imperious for much of the tournament in London, which is hardly a surprise considering the incredible amount of young but experienced talents on show.
However, they will come up against stubborn opposition in these Games in the form of South Korea.
A place against either Mexico or Japan in the Wembley final on Saturday awaits the winner of this tie.
With established star players like Neymar, Hulk, Alexandre Pato, Marcelo and Thiago Silva plus some of the most coveted young attacking players in world football such as Leandro Damiao, Lucas Moura and new Chelsea signing Oscar, Brazil have been favourites from the word go and lived up to that billing.
In their four matches thus far, Brazil have won all of them, scoring three goals in each of their four games so far. Between them, Leandro and Neymar have scored seven of those, including all three in the 3-2 quarterfinal win over Honduras.
Olympic gold is the one prize to have eluded the great Seleccao, World Cup winners a record five times. They lost back-to-back finals in Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988, while their bronze medal in Beijing four years ago was the second time they have come third in the competition.
When neighbours Uruguay and Argentina can both boast two gold-medal victories each, it becomes clear just how much of a burning desire there is in Brazil to win this elusive title. That is why they enlisted the services of former World Player of the Year Ronaldinho four years ago, and why they have gone much further to pack the squad with stars this time around.
Standing between them and the guarantee of at least a silver medal are South Korea. Hong Myung-Bo's team have ground their way through to the last four having only won one match up until this point. Two goalless draws in the group stage book-ended a 2-1 win over Switzerland.
In the quarterfinals it took a penalty shootout to see them past England after they were locked at 1-1 after extra time. Both of the goalkeepers in their squad were heroes in that match against the hosts on Saturday night in Cardiff, with Lee Beom-Young saving Daniel Sturridge's penalty in the shootout after Jung Sung-Ryong had denied Aaron Ramsey's second effort from the spot in normal time.
With just three goals scored and two goals conceded, it's not difficult to see the basis for the Koreans' success. Only their neighbours Japan, who are yet to ship a goal in London, have a better defensive record.
If Olympic gold was not already enough of an incentive for South Korea to upset the odds again by beating Brazil, then the prospect of skipping their national service should do it. All Koreans must complete 18 months of compulsory military service by the time they are 29 years old, but the members of the Olympic squad have been told they will be excused from that obligation if they return home with a medal.
Even defeat at Old Trafford on Tuesday would not deny them that chance, as they would go into Friday's bronze-medal match against either Japan or Mexico, but to triumph over the outright favourites would confirm at least a silver in the bag for them.
For Brazil's collection of stars, however, their biggest motivation is nothing but glory and the prospect of finally bringing home the only title which has so far evaded the greatest footballing nation in the game's history.
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