Technically, there are 16 teams that are vying for the gold medal in the upcoming Olympic men’s football tournament, and there are some sides that stand out, like the Netherlands, Italy, and the U.S., to name a few.
But, without a doubt, the two sides that many viewers will be most looking forward to seeing in action are Brazil and Argentina.
Argentina come to the Olympics looking to defend the gold medal that they captured in Athens 2004, where Carlos Tevez had quite the coming-out party – scoring an amazing eight goals, including the only goal in the final over Paraguay.
After missing the tournament in 2004, Brazil are making their return and, as you can guess, are one of the leading favorites for the gold, along with Argentina.
The last time these two CONMEBOL rivals met up in a major tournament was only last summer when they faced off for the crown at Copa America 2007 in Venezuela, and Brazil coasted to a 3-0 victory. Most recently, they met in June in a 2010 World Cup qualifier in Brazil, a match that ended in a 0-0 draw.
While the Olympics may not be considered by all as a top-tier tournament (thanks to the fact that it’s considered a U-23 World Cup for men’s football), both sides are bringing some of their big guns, which is one of the reasons both are looked at as favorites to easily reach the final rounds and why I’ll be paying more attention to the football in Beijing than I have at any other previous Olympics.
Even in the absence of the injured Robinho, Brazil have plenty of firepower, thanks to Werder Bremen playmaker Diego, Manchester United’s Anderson, AC Milan’s Alexandre Pato, and the biggest of them all, Ronaldinho, who’s set for a shot at redemption over the next few weeks before he kicks off the 08/09 Serie A campaign with AC Milan.
Along with Boca star Riquelme, Argentina boasts the likes of Liverpool’s Javier Mascherano, Atletico Madrid’s Sergio Aguero, and Ronaldinho’s former Barcelona teammate, Lionel Messi, who’s playing against the wishes of his club.
So, which of the two is in the best position to take the gold (because face it, that’s all you really care about)?
Unfortunately for everyone who’d love to see these two in the final, if both win their groups and then their quarterfinal ties, then the match-up of the tournament will be in the semifinals. Bit of a letdown, eh?
Whatever the case may be, provided Argentina and Brazil don’t have any unforeseen trip-ups before the semifinal round, it appears that they may well have to go through each other for the gold.
It’s easy to see that both sides’ strengths are in the midfield/attacking area, and for all intents and purposes, that’s a wash. Both sides aren’t short on the proven talents, and they both have a few lesser-knowns in midfield and attack who could earn themselves a lot of money in the span of a couple of weeks, like Brazil’s Thiago Neves and Hernanes (linked with the likes of Chelsea), and Argentina’s Diego Buonanotte.
However, one of the oldest adages in sport (well, at least in American sports) is that defense wins championships.
Across the back for Brazil, there are a couple of likely starters who have already earned their stripes in Europe: Schalke right-back Rafinha and Real Madrid left-back Marcelo, and manning the middle are the firm of Silva and Silva, in Fluminense’s Thiago and Sao Paulo’s Alex.
When it comes down to it, I favor their back line a little more than Argentina’s, which is more than adequate in its own right, featuring Inter’s Nicolas Burdisso and the La Liga-based duo of Federico Fazio (Sevilla) and Ezequiel Garay (Real Madrid, on loan at Racing Santander).
Depth is another key when it comes to succeeding in these kinds of tournaments, and considering that both coaches may (well, maybe) want to look towards the best interests of both the players and their clubs and not overwork them, and that’s an area that Brazil appears to be superior in.
While Argentina has plenty of depth in the midfield, it appears that Dunga has spread the depth even across the defense and the midfield, so there’s a little more freedom to rotate and to not have any worries in case there are injuries, which no one, especially the clubs, want to see.
However, talent isn’t everything, so Brazil is far from a shoe-in, even though I favor them over Argentina. You never know what to expect with a Dunga-coached side tactically, mentally, selection-wise, all across the board. Will they have the right mindset? Will they be over-confident? Will they be able to handle it if they fall behind?
That’s a lot of questions, I know. But, provided all of them have the right answer, then there’s no reason why Brazil shouldn’t take the gold in this tournament for the first time.
Will it come against Argentina? Well, if you want to see the two juggernauts duke it out for the gold, you best be praying that one of them finishes runner-up in their group. Sounds a little wrong to root against someone to do well, but hey, it’s the Olympics, and we want to see the best of the best play for all the marbles.