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Aug 11, 2012

Brazil fail to learn defensive lessons

A dream realised, a quest for gold finally successful and a new name added to the roll of honour. We just didn't expect it to be Mexico. Brazilian football cannot yet call itself all-conquering since the Olympic Games have again caused them pain and with it ravaged their credentials at the 2014 World Cup they will host.

International football is full of 'broken' teams, whereby one unit lets down the rest. At Euro 2012, Netherlands served as a perfect example, where a porous defence left a glittering forward line with too much to do. It seems that Brazil, who still boast the deepest talent pool in the world game, cannot produce a defence worthy of the name either. When a much-garlanded attack fails, as it did here, then strong defence is needed to see a team through. Brazil were simply too vulnerable. A last-minute header from Oscar could have taken the game into extra-time but it would have registered as something of an injustice had Mexico been denied.

El Tri, as a result of resolute and organised defending, and deadly finishing by Oribe Peralta, are deserved gold medallists. A line-up composed entirely of players from the Mexican league has achieved the country's greatest footballing achievement. Their senior equivalent have never got past the quarter-final of a World Cup and only did so when hosting the tournament. Over in London, 5,500 miles from Mexico City, their Under-23-plus-three contingent has won the medal that Brazil crave so much and must wait another four years for. The worry must now be that Olympic gold in Rio might have to serve as consolation for a disappointment in the World Cup that looks all too possible.

Despite the presence of Thiago Silva, the world's most expensive and coveted defender, Brazil had defended poorly all tournament, with both Honduras and Egypt scoring twice against them. And Mexico are a far better outfit than either of those. The warning signs have been ringing since Brazil's opening match; a failure to heed them led to their wearing sorrowful silver.

In heat that was more Brazilian or Mexican than North London, Brazil were caught cold and never warmed to their task until the very last moments. Peralta's goal after 28 seconds became the quickest in any FIFA tournament final. His second, with 15 minutes remaining, was a classic centre-forward's header but he had again been left with the freedom of Wembley to direct his effort past Gabriel.

Right-back Rafael, a young man who Premier League fans will know has more than a few mistakes in him, was culpable for the first goal, and was ragged throughout. As he left the field for Lucas Moura with six minutes to play, he did so with the angry words of Juan in his ears. Juan, meanwhile, could in no way consider himself blameless for his team's defensive malaise. As a unit, they had been frankly horrible. Silva's second-half error should have resulted in a goal from Marco Fabian, but he hit the bar with a hurried overhead kick, almost in surprise at the chance he had been gifted.

The likes of Dunga, at Los Angeles 1984 and Romario, at Seoul 1988, were once forced to accept silver medals yet eventually went on to win the World Cup. This Brazil generation can look to such forefathers for consolation, but defeat here was calamitous and avoidable.

The plan had been that this team of U-23s, augmented by Thiago Silva, Hulk and Marcelo as the overage trio, would form the backbone of Brazil's assault on winning their sixth world title. While it is foolhardy to predict a starting line-up in the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo on June 12, 2014, the likes of Ramires, Lucas Leiva, Julio Cesar, Dani Alves and Robinho will be challenging for places and now others will be sought too.

By 2014, Neymar, who seems likely to stay at Santos until Brazil's World Cup campaign is completed, is expected to be the godhead, with Oscar as his creative lieutenant yet both showed flourishes that were merely fleeting. Neymar almost always took on too much, usually finding himself outnumbered and down a blind alley. Oscar, Chelsea's £25 million new playmaker to go alongside the similarly pricey Eden Hazard, intermittently confirmed his undoubted talent and was responsible for his team's most penetrative moments, usually in tandem with Hulk.

Porto's expensive beast, who scored a late consolation goal, arrived from the subs' bench after just 30 minutes for Alex Sandro, which served as an admittance from Mano Menezes that he had got his tactics wrong. The fault was never corrected and failure here means that Menezes will almost certainly not get to coach the hosts in 2014. His plan will now be scrapped, and there will be much soul-searching about how to improve the defence without abandoning those Brazilian attacking ideals that are held so dear. To follow on from quarter-final exit at last year's Copa America, a very winnable tournament has gone by the wayside.

While praise must undoubtedly be lavished on Luis Fernando Tena and his players for Mexico's golden achievement, in truth, this has been an undistinguished Olympic men's tournament.

Indeed, it has been overshadowed by its female counterpart, which yielded far more in terms of entertainment. Since professional players were allowed in 1984, it is perhaps the lowest in quality we have yet seen. It certainly came nowhere near to matching the thrills on show at Atlanta in 1996 when Nigeria were victorious and in 2000 when Cameroon were winners in Sydney. It may have been highly satisfactory for the Asian contingent, with South Korea cherishing their bronze medal and the Japanese also impressing, but there has been little else.

The hosts, Team GB, put in a disappointing performance which did not help its profile amid a feast of other sporting triumphs and the early exits of Spain and Uruguay led to the latter stages lacking star quality.

That should not detract from Mexico's glory and will certainly not sooth Brazil's disappointment. In two years, the world will direct its attention to the silver medallists, and two years on from that when Rio replaces London as the Olympic city. In the country that considers itself the true home of football, only a double sprinkling of gold will do but, on the evidence of London 2012, there is much work required to avoid the further denial of dreams.

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