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Brazil’s $385 Million Olympic Soccer Team Goes for First Gold

Brazil’s Olympic soccer team is getting nervous ahead of tomorrow’s final against Mexico.

The record five-time world champion, Brazil has never won the gold medal at the games, and striker Neymar said he feels the expectation back home.

“There’s a lot of pressure wearing this shirt,” Neymar, 20, told reporters yesterday at the team’s hotel north of London. “We are doing this for all Brazilians.”

Brazil is seeking to end decades of underachievement at the Olympics by players who went on to win the World Cup such as Romario and Ronaldinho. Its last Olympic final was in 1988, a 2-1 loss to the Soviet Union in Seoul.

Professional soccer players weren’t allowed to compete at the Olympics before the 1984 Los Angeles games, ruling out some of Brazil’s most famous players including Pele and Manuel Francisco dos Santos, better known as Garrincha. The current rules permit three players over the age of 23.

The gold-medal game is at London’s Wembley Stadium. South Korea and Japan contest the bronze-medal match today in Cardiff, Wales.

Neymar, whose full name is Neymar da Silva Santos Jr., leads the upcoming Brazilian talent. The 18-man squad is the most valuable at the London games with a market worth of 313 million euros ($385 million), according to data from the website.

Midfielder Lucas Rodriguez Moura Silva, 19, was the latest to secure a big-money move to Europe when he agreed to join Paris Saint-Germain from Sao Paulo, PSG said Aug. 8. Brazil’s Globo network put Lucas’s transfer fee at 108 million reais ($53 million), calling it a record receipt for a Brazilian club.

Tune-up Loss

Even though Brazil lost 2-0 to Mexico in a June 3 tuneup in Dallas, anything less than the gold medal would be a disappointment, according to midfielder Sandro Raniere Guimaraes Cordeiro.

“So many Brazilians have failed to win gold before and finally we have one game left to put this right,” Sandro, 23, said. “Hopefully on Saturday we are winning gold, and not talking about winning gold.”

Brazil has wobbled at the London games.

The team allowed two second-half goals in a 3-2 win against Egypt in its opening game in Cardiff. It twice trailed before beating Honduras 3-2 in a quarterfinal at St. James’ Park in Newcastle, England.

Brazil, whose coach is Mano Menezes, downed South Korea 3-0 in the semifinals.

“I don’t know if we are more prepared than other Brazilian Olympic teams in the past, but I’m satisfied with what we’ve done so far,” Neymar said.

Calderon’s Congratulations

Mexico already surpassed its best Olympic performance by rallying from a goal down to beat Japan 3-1 and reach the final. Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderon, called the team after the win to congratulate the players, coach Luis Fernando Tena said at a news conference after that match.

“We have personality, we have character,” Tena told reporters. “Yes, we did play badly, but we clenched our teeth and went forward.”

One of Mexico’s best-known players, Giovani Dos Santos, tore a thigh muscle against Japan and won’t play in the final, the Mexican soccer federation said. The Tottenham Hotspur forward’s injury will take about 14 days to heal.

Brazil stayed away from the Olympic Village that houses most athletes and based players at a hotel in St. Albans, north of London. Its matches have all been outside the capital city.

Tomorrow, the Brazilians will make the 20-mile journey to Wembley.

“This is the one we’ve been waiting for,” Sandro said. “We’re nervous but prepared.”

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