Wednesday 03 August 2016, 04:11

Brazil's golden obsession looms large

For a nation with a record five FIFA World Cup™ titles on their honours’ list, failure to win Olympic football gold in 12 attempts has become something of an obsession. Brazil are determined not to let another opportunity pass them by, particularly with home advantage.

The presence of superstar striker Neymar underlines their desire to claim the top prize, but they will require plenty of hard graft – and a sprinkling of jogo bonito – to triumph at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016, which kicks off on Thursday 4 August.

However, fifteen other national teams will be attempting to rain on A Seleção’s parade. These include contenders of the calibre of Germany – reigning world champions with a nice blend of youth and experience – 2012 Olympic champions Mexico; the always dangerous Nigeria; a Colombia squad spearheaded by striker Teofilo Gutierrez; and last but not least Argentina, plagued by problems in the build-up but victors in this event in 2004 and 2008.

Match of the day Brazil-South Africa, 4 August 2016, 16.00 (local time) Other games might match Brazil’s opener for sporting allure, but the symbolic value of the Auriverde playing at home, with Neymar in their XI and chasing that elusive Olympic gold, hands it top billing. And though the No10 is battle-hardened enough not to be overawed by a white-hot atmosphere at Brasilia’s Estadio Nacional, it will surely be a baptism of fire for emerging talents like forwards Gabriel Jesus or Gabriel Gabigol Barbosa.

South Africa, for their part, will be keen to take advantage of any stage-fright experienced by the hosts and have enough gifted youngsters to do just that. Also, in a curious twist, one of their defenders is named Rivaldo Coetzee, while striker Tyroane Sandows plays for Brazilian club Gremio and has lived in Brazil for ten years.

The other matches Of the remaining seven matches, Germany-Mexico particularly catches the eye. In Matthias Ginter the Germans boast the only FIFA World Cup winner in the men’s event, while Mexico kick off their title defence led by Oribe Peralta, two-goal star of the final at London 2012 and a player with a happy knack of rising to the big occasion. In the same Group C are Korea Republic, bronze-medallists in 2012, whose first challenge comes in the shape of Fiji.

Argentina and Portugal, meanwhile, are set to face off in a potentially decisive Group D clash, though fellow section members Honduras and Algeria – who meet slightly earlier in the day, also in Rio – will hope to have their say too. In their favour is the youthful tint of a Portuguese group not featuring any of their UEFA EURO 2016-winning squad and an Albiceleste delegation that, despite featuring forwards of the calibre of Angel Correa and Jonathan Calleri, have enjoyed precious little preparation time and experienced a change of coach.

Colombia, including several stars of their domestic league plus Teo Gutierrez, who appeared for Los Cafeteros at Brazil 2014, have a tough start to Group B against Sweden. In the same group, John Obi Mikel, who expressly requested permission from Chelsea to be at Rio 2016, will captain Nigeria against Japan, with the Super Eagles having completed their preparations in the USA and harbouring hopes of repeating their gold medal win from Atlanta 1996.

The competition’s very first game will be an interesting duel between Denmark, for whom six players have arrived right at the last minute, against an Iraq squad that have been immersed in a two-month long training programme.

Player to watch Miguel Angel Borja (Colombia) The 23-year-old striker could barely be going into Rio in better form. Just a few days ago he scored the goal that clinched the Copa Libertadores for Medellin's Atletico Nacional, and with it their ticket to the FIFA Club World Cup 2016. Indeed, it has been a year in which the goals have flown freely, Borja top scoring in the Colombian championship with 19 goals for previous club Cortulua and, since joining El Verde in June, netting five times in four Libertadores encounters.

The stat 13 - The number of teams that opted to bring all three permitted over-age players (born before 1 January 1993). Only Argentina, South Africa and Honduras bucked the trend by naming just two.

The words “Brazil brings back really great memories. I was fortunate enough to have a great World Cup here with Costa Rica , I studied for my coaching badges in Sao Paulo and I have a bond with this country that makes me feel good. I’ve got the same feeling that I had when here with Costa Rica.” Jorge Luis Pinto, head coach of Honduras

Match schedule Group A Iraq-Denmark (Estadio Nacional, Brasilia, 13.00) Brazil-South Africa (Estadio Nacional, Brasilia, 16.00)

Group B Sweden-Colombia (Arena Amazonia, Manaus, 18.00) Nigeria-Japan (Arena Amazonia, Manaus, 21:00)

Group C Mexico-Germany (Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, 17.00) Fiji-Korea Republic (Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, 20.00)

Group D Honduras-Algeria (Estadio Olimpico, Rio de Janeiro, 15.00) Portugal-Argentina (Estadio Olimpico, Rio de Janeiro, 18.00)

(All times are local)