With the Olympic football gold medal only two games away, Brazil is trying hard to manage expectations. The Olympic title is the only significant championship Brazil hasn’t won in men’s football. “We can’t start thinking about the final,” Brazil forward Gabriel Jesus said. “We have to go step by step. We need to keep our calm and continue to work hard.” The host team got off to a disappointing start at the Olympics but is coming off two convincing victories. Brazil will next face surprising Honduras in the semifinals on Wednesday at the Maracana Stadium.
“We can’t think that it will be easy,” Brazil coach Rogerio Micale said Monday. “We know that they will try to take advantage that Brazil is under pressure and has the responsibility to win this game. We will need to be patient.”
Honduras arrived at the Rio de Janeiro Games without much hope of contending for a medal, but the team eliminated two-time Olympic champion Argentina in the group stage and got past a very good South Korean team in the quarterfinals.
“They deserve credit for having reached this stage,” Micale said. “They showed that they are competent and have their qualities. It’s a very difficult team to play against and if we are not on alert, we can end up being surprised.”
With a talented team led by Neymar, Brazil arrived at the games as the favorite to win the gold medal. The tournament is played mostly with under-23 squads. Only three players older than 23 can be added to each team, but clubs were not obligated to release them.
Brazil was expected to cruise into the final, but there were doubts about the team after a struggling start that included scoreless draws against South Africa and Iraq. Those results put Brazil in danger of another embarrassing home elimination two years after the 7-1 loss to Germany in the World Cup semifinals.
Things changed after a 4-0 rout of Denmark and a hard-fought 2-0 win over Colombia in the quarterfinals, when Neymar played well and finally showed why he is one of the biggest stars at the Rio Games.
Honduras already shocked Brazil’s senior team once, though, in the quarterfinals of the 2001 Copa America. The team coached by Luiz Felipe Scolari lost 2-0 in one of Brazil’s most shocking eliminations. Scolari eventually led Brazil to its fifth World Cup title a year later.
“It will be a tough game,” Micale said, “but I’m confident that our team will be prepared to do its job.”