Olympic football delivers on drama

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I’m no fan of Olympic football for the male of the species.

As I spelled out in a previous article, the competition does not attract the best players and therefore runs contra to the Olympic challenge of identifying the best in the world at whatever sport you do.

That is not the case for the women’s competition, which, to ram the point home, has produced the same final pairing that contested the World Cup, USA and Japan.

That is not to say that the men’s tournament has not been watchable. Any event featuring boys from Brazil has a chance. And the progress to the knockout stages of the British ensemble brought some momentum.

Brazil, the most successful international side in history, have yet to win the Olympic event, which offers another clue as to its relevance and importance to the football milieu. That said, given the outballs they have in this squad, I’m not sure that statistic will endure beyond this week.

Neymar is an exceptional player. Once he learns to release the ball quicker he will be an even greater asset. Oscar is more attuned to the needs of his team-mates and links the play brilliantly in the classic mode of the Brazilian no.10; quick feet, vision, velvet touch, an attacking impulse and pace. What a buy Chelsea have made in him.

In the first half of the semi-final Brazil were outmanoeuvred and outpassed by a well organised, mobile and efficient South Korean team. The weight of possession was with the Koreans but the hardest part of the pitch in which to operate is the final third and thanks to a decisive incursion from Neymar, Brazil took the lead against the run of play.

Once the second goal went in after the break, Brazil acquired their more recognisable Samba rhythm, moving the ball sweetly. An observation from an untrained eye, that of my 13-year-old son, captured the essence of the Brazilian attitude to the game.

“They don’t care if they make mistakes,” he said, after Neymar’s dance down the left ended in a blur of tangled feet. His own.

Neymar was three beaten men into his run when an attempted step over went wrong. There was no embarrassment, no shame, no shrinkage of shoulders and chest. It is part of the game. And when the ball came his way again he was off on another risk-averse assault on the Korean penalty area.

This is the essential pleasure of Brazilian football and what draws us to the spectacle. They are fearless. They have a go. The point is to score a goal not keep one out. The difference is everything.

The women’s semi-final between the USA and Canada was no less enthralling. The women’s game does not have quite the power and the athleticism of the men’s, but it does not suffer for that. The intensity is fantastic and the technique excellent.

The one area where the women seem to struggle is at centre-half when the ball is in the air. The USA conceded two headed goals from crosses and the game was decided by another in extra-time. Though the strikes tended to loop rather than explode off the striker’s forehead, suggesting an area of inherent physical weakness, there was no defence against them.

But that did not detract from a spectacle that was representative of an excellent tournament. Bring on that final.

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