CARDIFF, Wales – Brazil has waited a long time for an Olympic gold in men's soccer, and the team enters the London Games confident that the wait is finally about to end.
Brazil will make its debut in the Olympic tournament on Thursday against Egypt at the Millennium Stadium, hoping a good start will lead to success in the only significant competition it has never won. It finished with the Olympic silver in 1984 and 1988 and the bronze in 1996 and 2008.
Brazil is playing with a nearly full-strength squad and coach Mano Menezes and his players know there are high expectations for victory. Many of the players here at the Olympics will also likely be in the team trying to win the World Cup at home in 2014, so high hopes is something they better get used to.
It will be the second significant competition Brazil is playing under Menezes' command since he took over the national team following the 2010 World Cup. He was head of the team that was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Copa America in Argentina in 2011, prompting heavy criticism from fans and local media and putting his command in doubt.
More than a year later, he thinks the situation is different and Brazil has a better chance of succeeding in its quest for the elusive gold medal.
"We've had a good sequence of matches since then and I think that's going to make a difference," Menezes said. "I think this sequence is going to show on the way we play. We are better prepared now."
The Olympic men's tournament is played with under-23 squads and three overage players, but Brazil has almost its full team available since many of its top players at the moment are youngsters, including Neymar, Oscar, Alexandre Pato and Leandro Damiao.
The Brazilian soccer federation has already hinted that only a good performance in the London Games will secure Menezes' job as it enters its final preparations for the 2014 World Cup.
Menezes is fully aware of what's at stake.
"Brazil is always a favorite when it's playing these competitions," the coach said. "We've won and we've lost as favorites. We are not under more pressure this time compared to the other tournaments we've had to play."
He added: "We know of our responsibility and we know that fans are expecting us to win. We can't do anything about the other Olympics that we didn't win, they are in the past, we have to focus only on this one."
Menezes said the starting lineup for the match against Egypt will likely remain unchanged from the 2-0 victory over Britain in a warmup a few days ago, with the exception of goalkeeper Rafael, who was dropped from the squad because of an elbow injury sustained in practice on Monday.
Reserve Fiorentina goalkeeper Neto will replace Rafael, making his national team debut on Thursday.
"That's not going to be a problem," Menezes said. "We have very good goalkeepers here and Rafael's absence won't be a problem. Neto is in position to do the job just like Rafael was."
Egypt coach Hany Ramzy said he is expecting a "very difficult" game against Brazil. The Egyptians are playing in the Olympic tournament for the first time since 1992.
"When you play Brazil you can't worry only about one player, they have great names in every position," he said. "But we still think that we can have a great start. Everybody is proud to be here playing for Egypt and we can't wait for the kickoff. I think it will be a very interesting game for everybody."
Brazil and Egypt are in Group C, along with Belarus and New Zealand.