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 By Tim Vickery

Neymar, Brazil under serious pressure in Olympic group finale vs. Denmark

It all came pouring out when Rafaela Silva won Brazil's opening gold medal of the Rio Games in judo. In her first interview, she railed against the abuse she had suffered from her own compatriots on social media after an early elimination in London four years ago. Some Brazilian athletes are making the same point, especially swimmer Joanna Maranhao, who says she will take legal action against some of the people who have abused her.

Brazil can be very cruel to their sporting representatives and it's Neymar who is now in the front line. Brazil's captain was supposed to lead his team on a victory procession towards the Olympic gold medal. Instead, the tournament which was supposed to be a morale booster for Brazil's troubled football is, so far at least, not turning out as expected. After two incredibly unimpressive 0-0 draws against South Africa and then Iraq, anything other than a victory against Denmark on Wednesday night could mean an unthinkable first round elimination.

Billed as the moment when the five time world champions might start to bounce back, the Olympic tournament is threatening to drop them deeper into the hole the team find themselves in.

Neymar and Co. were unable to help Brazil find a winner against Iraq on Sunday.
Neymar was supposed to lead Brazil's procession to the top of the podium, but it hasn't worked out that way.

Even the superb performances of Brazil's women's team have become a stick with which to beat the men. Last Saturday, as Brazil beat Sweden 5-1, the Rio crowd chanted that Marta was better than Neymar. A day later the Brasilia crowd picked up the baton as the men stumbled through their second goalless game. "Marta, Marta," chanted the crowd. It was more than a tribute to the No. 10 of the women's team, it was a way of criticising her male counterpart.

On the eve of the Denmark game, Brazil coach Rogerio Micale came to his captain's defence. "We're always looking for villains," he said. "We want to find someone to blame, and this is wrong. Germany took 12 years to get to the top, and we want to get there in six months! To advance a little in terms of improving our football, the discussion should have more depth."

Micale is a low profile coach, a relative unknown. Those who have had contact with him speak highly of a man with interesting ideas and a thorough diagnosis of how far Brazilian football has slipped in terms of its style of play.

Marta vs Sweden OLY
During the Brazil women's win against Sweden, fans chanted that Marta was better than Neymar.

The big disappointment of the first two games has been that his time with the squad has not brought about a change thus far. Anyone searching for evidence of the current on-field problems of the Brazilian game need look no further than the matches against South Africa and Iraq.

The team has plenty of individual talent, but has shown no collective pattern. If the definition of a good pass is that the receiver has the option of playing first time, then Brazil had hardly come up with one. There is gaping space between the lines of the team, making it hard to move the ball in a fluid manner. And worse, there seems to be little conception of how to move the ball. The opposition play in little clusters of three, and then switch the play. Brazil merely charge forward in solo breaks, which are either picked off by the opposition or end in an attempt to force a free kick by going to ground.

And the consequence of two draws is that, effectively, the knock-out stage starts early for the hosts. In Wednesday's game, Denmark will be happy to draw. If there is a winner in the South Africa-Iraq game, Brazil would be dumped out of the competition with just a point.

Micale and company will be glad to see the back of Brasilia, its jeering fans and terrible pitch. They will seek to make a fresh start in Salvador's lovely Fonte Nova stadium. But if it goes wrong once more, the abuse they receive on social media will surely be a trending topic.

Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.


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