The Selecao have been cheering on their fellow competitors every step of the way while preparing to battle Spain in Saturday’s final
The Olympic Games football tournament might not always hold the same allure as other major international tournaments, but Saturday’s gold medal match promises to be a spectacular encounter between two of the game’s heavyweights.
Brazil, defending the title won on home soil in Rio de Janeiro five years ago, take on Spain in the decider, with both sides unbeaten at Tokyo 2020 and vindicating their shared status of pre-tournament favourites.
Victory for Spain would mean their first football gold since triumphing in Barcelona almost 30 years ago; while Brazil have the opportunity to emulate neighbours Hungary, Uruguay and Argentina by winning back-to-back Olympic titles.
Hopes are high for the Selecao, then, but perhaps just as crucially the Olympic spirit has pervaded the camp throughout the Tokyo extravaganza.
Football often holds an uneasy relationship with the Games. Its stars are used to a cosseted existence amongst themselves in luxury hotels, while unlike most Olympic sports, gold is not considered the pinnacle of a player’s career.
Go into it with the right attitude, though, and the experience can be magical.
“The Olympics are special because you live in that amateur spirit, in the Olympic Village, and that is fantastic because things happen which don’t happen in other competitions,” Andres D’Alessandro, a 2004 gold-medallist with Argentina, confided to Goal prior to the start of this year’s Games.
“It’s great sharing an apartment with another team, taking the bus to have breakfast, sharing your table with athletes from other sports. We all used to meet up with other Argentine athletes to eat, and that was really amazing.”
But soaking up the essence of the Games, win or lose, can prove a challenge.
Brazil superstar Ronaldinho appeared infamously unimpressed with his bronze at Beijing 2008, even fielding a telephone call on the podium while his team-mates looked on in confusion.
Those representing their country are not just expected to do their best when their turn comes: they must also cheer on compatriots in whatever discipline might be running at the time, from Weightlifting to Water Polo.
This is a lesson Brazil’s 2020 hopefuls seem to have taken to heart. Ajax striker Antony offered a touching tribute to Artistic Gymnastics gold winner Rebeca Andrade after victory, telling her via Twitter: “You are inspiration, you are gold, you are Brazil… The pride of our country!”
Everton forward Richarlison has also made the point of saluting Brazil’s champions via social media.
Then, of course, there is the team’s legendary captain.
Dani Alves does not always appear to be taking life all that seriously, but there is no doubt that he is desperate to get his hands on gold.
— Antony Santos (@antony00) August 1, 2021
“I am representing my homeland, we have to be prepared,” he told reporters prior to the final. “It is going to be a special day because this is an Olympic final, and we have confidence as a team.
“The passion, the will, the determination to do great things in football is huge, that makes this game special…
“Not many of us here will have the chance to play another Olympics. This is a special moment and you need to be ready for special moments, show a lot of intensity because they don’t come round again.
“We plan to give everything we have in our souls, our hearts and our minds on this great day.”
Not that Dani’s commitment has led to him forgetting the Olympic ethos, of course.
Following Tuesday’s penalty shoot-out victory to reach the final at the expense of Mexico, he publicly commended Tri idol Guillermo Ochoa, telling the goalkeeper: “It was a pleasure to see you here, brother, all my blessings and onwards and upwards always!”
When it comes to their actual play on the field, Andre Jardine’s Under-23s are largely following the ruthless manual set down by senior coach Tite.
The cornerstone of this team is the backline, which has conceded just three goals in the entire tournament – two of which came against Germany in their 4-2 opening-day victory – while goalkeeper Santos has kept three consecutive clean sheets on the way to the final.
That formidable defence, though, was not enough to stop Argentina upsetting the Selecao on home soil back in July, and it might not be sufficient against a Spain team which, with the likes of Pedri, Marco Asensio, Dani Olmo and Mikel Oyarzabal in its ranks has gone from strength to strength in Japan after a slow start.
Brazil’s young (and not so young) stars have approached this Games with an exemplary attitude from start to finish – now we shall find out if they have what it takes to take that final step and write their name into Olympic history as back-to-back winners.