Brazilian hotshots hint at 2014 success

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It was men against boys in Washington DC last night as Brazil took on the USA. But the Samba boys taught their elder counterparts a footballing lesson on the spongy FieldEx Field.

Brazil's Olympic team - largely consisting of players under 23 - took apart a senior International USA side with relative ease. Leading the line was South American golden boy, Neymar, and the Santos star helped himself to a goal and laid on two more for his colleagues in the emphatic 4-1 win.

Pele recently suggested Neymar is the world's best player, a bold claim considering the achievements of a certain Argentinian this year, but on this evidence he is surely capable of challenging Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo's stranglehold on the top individual awards. British fans will have the opportunity to decide for themselves in London this summer.

But the most pleasing thing for coach Mano Menezes must be the strength of contribution from his home-based stars. In the past, Brazil's hottest prospects wasted no time in completing their transatlantic crossings, often signing for European clubs before they were ready.

Recently, however, domestic football in Brazil has improved, facilitated by the deeper pockets of club owners, and Ronaldinho, Adriano, and Robinho have all returned to the league where they built their reputations.

Such signings have boosted the profile of the Brazilian league, encouraging top talents like Lucas Moura and Neymar to stick around a bit longer than they otherwise would.

Copa Libertadores titles have helped, but it is still only a matter of time before these two look to join Thiago Silva, Marcelo, and Hulk in Europe. These three represented Menezes' over-age picks, and the defensive nature of two demonstrates the coach's confidence in the exciting attacking threat offered by Brazil's latest crop of young Samba stars.

Speaking after the USA game, Menezes said: "Since the beginning, I knew we could trust them, building with this team, blending them with more experienced players."

The appointment of Menezes was a nod towards the growing influence of home-based players - Menezes has never managed outside the country - and Dunga's replacement wasted no time ditching the European stars that failed in South Africa.

A substantial core of Brazil's Olympics team formed part of their successful under-20 team which swept to South American and World Cup glory last year, lead chiefly by the creative talents of Neymar, Lucas and Henrique.

Danilo, Guilherme Juan, Alex Sandro and Oscar dos Santos, also formed a key part of last year's success and will hope to continue their underage dominance in the youth-orientated Olympic Games.

Lucas and Neymar graduated to the senior side slightly earlier than the rest, but the majority of the squad has played together for years, developed an understanding, and most importantly, won comprehensively.

As a result, Brazil are heavy favourites to take home Olympic Gold. Given their dominance of senior and youth football - they are five-time World Cup champions at full international and under-20 level - it's surprising to note Brazil have never won the coveted medal.

Romario, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Ronaldo have all tried, and failed - but with arch rivals Argentina out of the equation, Brazil are desperate to win this summer.

That elusive gold would right an historical anomaly, but perhaps more importantly, victory in London would give the country valuable momentum heading into the 2014 World Cup.

The pressure on home soil in two years time will be suffocating, especially considering the disappointments of the past two World Cups, and their shameful quarter-final exit at the 2011 Copa America.

This summer's games then, will be a good opportunity to assess this generation's chances. Although the World Cup remains two years away, in Brazil, one eye is always kept on the home tournament, and the opportunity for a historic sixth crown.

Speaking to Marca Brasil, Menezes said: "The goal is the Olympic team. We are renovating the team and need young players for 2014."

The rebuilding process was brutal at first, as Menezes ruthlessly cut the 2010 disappointments. An awkward Copa America followed, but a ray of light in the form of under-20 success gave Menezes and indication of the talents of the next generation.

Friendly victories over Denmark and the USA were good warm-ups for the Olympics, but the London games will be a true competitive test for this young side. Success or failure in Britain will be viewed through the prism of Brazil 2014, but history beckons this summer for this young side.

The pressure to deliver a first gold will be intense, but will pale in comparison to the heavy weight of expectation Neymar and co can look forward to in two years time. The early signs are good though, and a 4-1 victory away to the USA underlines their undoubted potential.

Over the past two years, this young team has swept all before it, building a formidable reputation, but it will be the next two years which will define it.

Menezes has invested his hopes in the ability of this talented generation. But his team is short of experience and short of achievements. Victory in London can bring both and could be the first step on the long road to fulfilling that potential.

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