Monday 22 August 2016

Gold soundz: Making sense of Brazil's Olympic football success, with help from Andy Murray

Andy Murray entered the London Olympic Games at a fairly low ebb four years ago. Earlier in the summer, he had come up short against Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final. Murray must have wondered whether the Grand Slam glory he had pursued for so long would ever arrive.

The Olympics provided a salve for his wounds. Murray breezed to the gold medal match and nonchalantly dispatched Federer. It wasn't Wimbledon (although it was staged there) and it did not make up for the previous defeat. But as Murray thanked a partisan Centre Court crowd, it was hard not to feel that a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.

A month later, he won the US Open.

The comparison between Murray's watershed moment and Brazil's Olympic football breakthrough on Saturday night is an imperfect one for a number of reasons (the Scot's success was not set against a wider story of decline, for one). But when the dust settles on a dramatic night in Rio de Janeiro, those seeking to contextualise and measure Brazil's 5-4 victory over Germany in a penalty shootout (following a 1-1 stalemate) may find instructive – and inspiring – echoes here.

Read my take on Brazil's Olympic success at ESPN FC.

Thursday 18 August 2016

Four is the magic number as Robinho, Fred, Maicosuel and Pratto drag Atlético Mineiro into title contention

Someone in Brazilian football needs to put a call in to De La Soul and break the news: the results are in and – for now at least – four, not three, is very much the magic number.

That's certainly the case for the Brazil men's team at the Olympics. After watching his charges slump to back-to-back goalless draws against South Africa and Iraq, coach Rogério Micale decided that enough was enough and decided to play all of his forwards – Neymar, Gabriel Jésus, Luan and Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa – against Denmark, Colombia and Honduras. The outcome? Three victories and 12 goals scored, some of them stunners.

But it's not just at international level that four is the law. In the Brasileirão, which naturally hasn't paused for the Olympics, Atlético Mineiro have rocketed up the standings courtesy of their storied fantastic four: Fred, Robinho, Maicosuel and Lucas Pratto.

Read my latest for WhoScored here.

Thursday 11 August 2016

Neymar under fire as Brazil start Olympics on back foot – but win over Denmark eases pressure

"Resuscitated," read the front page of sports daily Lance! on Thursday morning, which seemed just about right. After the choking tedium of the games against South Africa and Iraq, Brazil breathed life into their Olympic campaign with a 4-0 win over Denmark – a result that restores belief, even if it will not fully neutralise doubts.

On the face of it, the key moment of the game was Gabriel Barbosa's scuffed opening goal, which settled the nerves and allowed the hosts to go about their business with a renewed sense of conviction. But of greater long-term significance may be the third goal, scored by Luan, not because it was an especially memorable finish but because its construction suggested that Brazil's most potent attacking force might be awaking from his slumber.

In my latest for ESPN FC, I look at a tough couple of weeks for Neymar and explain why his critics should be careful what they wish for.

Friday 5 August 2016

Paulo Henrique Ganso is finally ready to show what he can do in Europe. What took him so long?

Even in the early days, before the hype and the hardship, he was different. Otherworldly, almost, drifting nonchalantly through matches and through life. While others scurried around making work for themselves, everything looked so easy for Paulo Henrique Ganso.

He was a first-team player at 17; a year later, his contract at Santos included a €50million buyout clause. Soon there were trophies, awards and Brazil caps. Ganso took it all in his languid stride, collecting assists as though they were going out of fashion, yet rarely operating at anything beyond walking pace.

Brazilian midfields can be battlegrounds, all sound and fury. Ganso, though, played as if he had exclusive access to a pause button, floating into space and spinning intricate webs of passes from behind the strikers. Tall and impossibly elegant, he was a throwback to golden age of the playmaker, a Gérson or a Sócrates refracted through Juan Román Riquelme's wonky Technicolor lens.

But things would not turn out to be as simple as expected for the man nicknamed 'Goose'. Read my piece on the rise, fall and resurrection of Ganso on the FourFourTwo website.

Thursday 4 August 2016

10 reasons to think Brazil will win gold in the Olympic football tournament this summer

The opening ceremony for Rio 2016 may not take place until Friday, but one sport clearly has no time for administrative niceties: the women's Olympic football tournament kicked off on Wednesday, with Sweden and Brazil among the winners.

The men have just got underway as I type, with the hosts playing South Africa in Brasília. Brazil are massive favourites to win gold, having named a strong squad for the tournament.

For Unibet, I pick out ten reasons to think they can win gold this summer.

Wednesday 3 August 2016

Gabriel Jésus profile: Why Brazil's brightest young star is set to take football by storm in the years ahead

It's not every day that a 19-year-old footballer gets a phone call from one of the game's great coaches, but that's just what happened to Gabriel Jésus a couple of weeks ago.

The Brazilian starlet, who has been at the centre of an transfer scramble between Manchester City, Barcelona and Man United in recent weeks was minding his own business when an unknown number flashed up on his screen. At the other end of the line was none other than Pep Guardiola.

The Palmeiras striker, understandably starstruck, is believed to have been swayed to the extent that City shot to the top of his list of preferred destinations. But just who is Gabriel Jésus? And what will he bring to the Premier League?

Read my scouting report on the MirrorFootball website.

Tuesday 2 August 2016

Meet Brazil's Olympic football hopefuls, including 'Big Daddy' and the midfielder who once lived in a sex motel

Football tends to take a back seat during the Olympic Games – both because there are so many other sports vying for attention and because the major nations do not regard it as a priority. The under-23 tournament has produced some memorable moments in the past, but the reality is that, in this era of soaring bank balances and packed schedules, the Games are viewed by many as an inconvenience.

The exception that proves the rule is Brazil, who are taking the competition very seriously indeed. Their priorities for the summer were established early in the year when it was decided Neymar would be left out of the squad for the Copa América Centenario so that he could appear at Rio 2016. He is, by some margin, the biggest star present at the tournament, but by no means will this be a one-man show; Brazil's squad boasts plenty of other talent, especially in attacking areas.

My player-by-player guide to Brazil's Olympic football squad can be found at ESPN FC.