Brazil entered the Olympics as the odds-on favorite to win gold in the men's soccer competition, and although there have been a few shaky moments along the way, the South American squad is just a win shy of accomplishing its ultimate goal. Canarinho will take on Mexico in the gold-medal match on Saturday and has a great chance to seal the deal.
Mexico won't go quietly, but with star forward Giovani dos Santos out due to an injury, things should certainly be a little easier for the Brazilians. The most talented team doesn't necessarily always come out on top, but Brazil seems to have all the pieces needed to become a world champion.
Here are three star players that will come up big for Brazil in the gold-medal match and lead Selecao to its first Olympic gold in men's soccer.
There is no doubt that offense is Brazil's hallmark and that has held true throughout the London Games as the Brazilians have scored precisely three goals in each of their five matches thus far. In some of the contests each of the goals were necessary, while in others they provided a comfortable cushion.
Whatever the case, Santos forward Neymar has been the catalyst for much of the offensive production. Not only does he have three goals to his credit, but he has assisted on a few more and is a constant threat to the opposition.
Even when Neymar isn't contributing on the score sheet, which admittedly isn't very often, he is making life miserable for defenders as he has a fantastic mix of speed, vision and creativity. If he is given too much space, he has a big shot that can go in from almost anywhere. If he is marked too tightly, though, he has incredible moves at close quarters that can burn the defense. There truly isn't a great method for defending Neymar and Mexico will find that out on Saturday.
While 19-year-old goalkeeper Gabriel entered London as the clear backup, he remained prepared and it has ultimately paid off for him. Brazil initially went with more of a veteran presence between the pipes in the form of Fiorentina's Neto, but the 23-year-old surrendered two goals to Egypt and one to Belarus, and simply wasn't the steady hand that the Brazilian coaching staff had hoped for. That resulted in Gabriel becoming the new starter and he hasn't looked back since.
Gabriel racked up a clean sheet in 3-0 win over New Zealand in his first match. That was followed up with a tough 3-2 win over Honduras, but Gabriel didn't let that rattle him as he shut down a talented South Korean team in the semifinals by a score of 3-0.
Mexico is undoubtedly the toughest test that the youngster has faced yet, but he has remained cool under pressure, even when the defense has broken down, so I expect him to come up big in the gold-medal match.
All of the focus was on Neymar when the Olympics started, but it would be fair to say that 23-year-old Internacional striker Leandro Damiao has stolen his thunder to some degree. As long as he continues to play at a high level and Brazil continues to win, however, I doubt Neymar would mind moving over a bit.
Damiao leads all scorers in this tournament with six tallies, which is an especially big accomplishment when you consider how much offensive talent is on his own team. Damiao has out-shined all of them, though, and has more than one-third of Canarinho's markers.
With dos Santos out of the fold for Mexico, the Mexicans may sit back on their heels more than usual and try to turn the gold-medal match into a defensive, counter-attack game. That may limit Brazil's scoring chances to some degree, but Damiao is an extremely quick, yet big and physical striker who can get over the top and out-muscle many defenders. If Mexico is too passive, I would expect Damiao to make it pay.
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