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Brazil to play Mexico for Olympic gold in soccer

Friday - 8/10/2012, 11:28am  ET

By TALES AZZONI
AP Sports Writer

LONDON (AP) - Brazil hasn't been this close to the gold medal in men's soccer since Romario was a promising young star in the late 1980s.

Many great players have tried and failed after him, including Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho.

Now it will be up to Neymar, the future of Brazilian soccer, to end decades of frustration and give the nation its first Olympic gold, the only trophy missing for the five-time World Cup champions.

Brazil is the favorite in Saturday's final at Wembley Stadium against Mexico, a team which will also be looking for its first Olympic gold.

"It's our third chance to win this gold and hopefully we will learn the lessons from the other finals we played and didn't win," Brazil coach Mano Menezes said.

Anything but the gold will be considered a failure for Brazil, which established the London Games as the team's priority this year and brought most of its top players for the competition.

The Olympics are also an important test for the players, most of them who will also likely be in the team trying to help Brazil win next year's Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup at home.

Victory would give them an extra boost of morale and show fans the national team is on the right track, while defeat could raise doubts and even cost Menezes his job.

"We all know that we need to win the gold," Menezes said. "Brazil has to win every tournament it plays, it needs to win every match it plays, even if it's a friendly. And this time even more because it's something the nation has never won before."

Brazil is playing in the Olympic final for the first time since the 1988 Games, when the team led by Romario and Bebeto lost 2-1 to the then Soviet Union. Brazil also lost the final four years earlier in Los Angeles.

Bebeto, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Roberto Carlos got the bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Games, and Ronaldinho also finished third with Brazil four years ago in Beijing, when the team lost to Argentina in the semifinals. Ronaldinho also was in the team eliminated by Cameroon in the quarterfinals of the 2000 Sydney Games. Brazil didn't qualify for Athens in 2004.

Coaches who tried and never got the gold include Mario Zagallo in 1996, Vanderlei Luxemburgo in 2000 and Dunga in 2008.

The man carrying the team's expectations this time is 20-year-old Neymar, Brazil's most talked-about player in years, touted by some to potentially become the world's best player.

"We came here for the gold and we are one match away from getting it," said Neymar, who has been playing up to expectations so far with three goals and several assists in the team's five victories. "We just have to do our job in the final."

But Brazil will be facing an opponent which has been creating problems in recent years. Mexico has won six of the last 12 matches against the Brazilians since 1999, including that year's Confederations Cup final. It lost only four of those games and drew two.

The Mexicans won the last time the teams played, a warmup for the Olympics just a few months ago in the United States. Mexico won 2-0 in a match in which both teams played with many of the players who made it to the London Games.

"We are certainly using that match in our preparation for the final here," Menezes said. "They are playing here very similarly to how they played in that match."

But Mexico's task to win its first gold got a bit harder when forward Giovani Dos Santos was ruled out of the final because of a right hamstring injury. The son of a former Brazilian player, Dos Santos will be replaced by Marco Fabian.

"It's sad," Mexico playmaker Miguel Ponce said, "but even if he can't be there, we are going to play the match for him and the country."

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Follow Tales Azzoni at http://twitter.com/tazzoni


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