BRAZIL’s misery at plucking a football gold medal at the Olympics was on Sunday night given a harsh reminder when they were held to another nail-biting 0-0 drawn game by an ‘underweight’ Iraq team at the Estadio Nacional de Brasilia.
The Group A result was as stunning and as disturbing for the Brazilians who are yet to win an Olympic gold medal and to think they could miss that all-important silverware on home soilyet again was even more worrying.
It was the Brazilians’ successive stalemate of the campaign, having been battled to the same blank result by a 10-man South Africa last Thursday night.
Truth is that the Iraqis never gave Brazil the slightest hint of respect, matching them boot-for-boot and even threatened to score on a few occasions. Indeed, the Neymar-led side were let off the hook in the early moments of the opening half after an Iraqi header crashed off the post with the entire defence left in trance.
It was enough warning to the home team who were cheered on by a packed stadium of about 60,000 yellow shirts, as they reorganised themselves into a more fiery unit and piled incessant pressure on their equally unwavering opponents.
Neymar had a gilt-edged opportunity on the edge of the box to put Brazil ahead in the 42nd minute, but rather shot a freekick lamely straight into the Iraqi human wall with the ball rolling teasingly into the path of Renato Augusto.
However, the China-based midfielder was unlucky to see his effort explode off the upright to end an extremely entertaining opening half.
The Iraqis switched their first-half strategy of holding onto the ball and pouring forward in bursts when need be – to a soak-up-the-pressure-and-play-on-the-break style. That strategy somehow worked perfectly as the Asians defended well and chased every ball.
But clearly, Brazil would have to raise their performance in subsequent games; otherwise Olympic gold will only be another wild goose chase in front of their own pet crowd.
In their earlier game, Brazil were met with a chorus of boos when they failed to break down a dogged South African defence and ended the game in a stalemate. The South Americans are red-hot favourites to win the tournament, which has new Manchester City signing Gabriel Jesus as well as Paris Saint-Germain defender Marquinhos among a host of big names in the squad.
On Sunday night, the boos were even stronger after the referee’s final signal – but the delighted Iraqis, who also shared the spoils in their first game against Denmark, celebrated the home team’s misery after they fiercely survived seven minutes of time-added on.
Brazil will face Denmark in their final group fixture tomorrow night and they ought to win if they want to avoid a possible calamitous group stage exit – just as it happened during the Copa America last June.
By John Vigah, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil