By Tom Webber
The men's Olympic football tournament has not been short of surprises this year. Two of the pre-tournament favourites, Spain and Uruguay, suffered early exits, leaving Brazil to be tipped to write history and take the gold. And having survived a scare in their quarter-final with Honduras, the prize is the Selecao's for the taking.
There were echoes of the Samba Boys' painful 2-0 defeat to the Central American nation in the same stage of the 2001 Copa America when Mario Martinez volleyed Honduras into the lead on Saturday. Los Catrachos, who were responsible for Spain's early exit having beaten them by a single goal in the group stage, stunned Mano Menezes' team with just 12 minutes on the clock but soon offered them a route back into the game when Wilmer Crisanto saw red for two poorly-judged tackles just after the half-hour mark.
|MATCH FACTS | Brazil 3-2 Honduras
From then on it seemed inevitable that the South Americans would progress, and that they did, though it did not come without a staunch fight from their 10-man opponents. But with a lively Leandro Damiao leading the line, scoring two goals and winning the penalty which Neymar dispatched in between them, the Selecao showed the strengths that make them favourites as well as the glaring shortcomings that could potentially see them fail.
It could have gone so differently in Newcastle. Brazil's defence does not seem to be getting any stronger and, had Honduras kept their cool and not been reduced to 10 men early on, they could have offered a real test. Yet with the elimination of Spain and Uruguay, the Samba Boys have been presented with a great chance to win the an unprecedented gold in London.
They owe their status as favourites to an immensely potent attack that could see them past any team. With Oscar pulling the strings in a series of elegant performances, Menezes' team have scored three goals in all four of their matches so far. Factor in Hulk and the front four possesses unequivocal quality. With the likes of Ganso, Lucas Moura and Alexandre Pato, the squad there is no shortage of diverse options.
Brazil have fought from behind to win on two occasions at the Olympics and will therefore be confident that all is not lost should they suffer a similar fate in the semi-final against South Korea. Despite a tendency to concede, it is unlikely that the Selecao will find themselves in such a commanding position at a Games for years to come.
Things may have fallen kindly for the Canarinho but Menezes has a fantastic opportunity to etch his name, and that of his side, into national folklore. Brazil are now just two games away from becoming Olympic champions for the first time in their history. Where the likes of Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Bebeto failed at Atlanta in 1996, the current crop hope to live up to the hype of a golden generation. It is their greatest chance, it is a necessity, and it is theirs for the taking.
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