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Brazil seeks elusive Olympic gold

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LONDON — Brazil kicks off their latest attempt to win an Olympic football gold medal as their star-studded men’s side takes on Egypt in Cardiff tomorrow.

The most successful nation in football history, Brazil have won an unrivalled five Fifa World Cups and no fewer than eight South American continental championships since 1916.

But despite repeated attempts at Olympic glory, the gold medal has remained stubbornly elusive for a nation which is often regarded as the spiritual guardian of the game.

Most gallingly, Brazil have had to endure the sight of bitter South American rival Argentina winning gold at the past two Olympics, triumphing in Beijing four years ago after beating Brazil in the semi-final.

However Brazil’s chances of finally landing the Olympic crown have been boosted by Argentina’s failure to qualify for London, an absence which removes a major barrier from its path to the 11 August final at Wembley.

A squad bristling with star names including AC Milan’s Alexandre Pato, highly sought-after Neymar, Oscar and Lucas, and bolstered by established overage players Thiago Silva, Hulk and Marcelo, looks like the team to beat on paper.

Although the squad suffered a setback when goalkeeper Rafael Cabral was ruled out with an elbow injury, it will be a major surprise if Brazil fails to emerge from a first-round group which also includes Belarus and New Zealand.

Brazil coach Mano Menezes has attempted to play down the expectations of his side while acknowledging what a gold medal would mean for the country.

“It’s huge for Brazilian fans. It’s a dream to get this gold medal,” Menezes said.

“It’s the only title we’re missing.

“We feel we’re capable of getting this gold medal, but we don’t see ourselves as favourites.”

Brazil certainly looked like a potential gold medallist, however, with its stylish 2-0 dismissal of Great Britain’s inexperienced side last week.

Britain’s men, making their first appearance at an Olympic football tournament for 52 years, open their Group A campaign against Senegal at Manchester United’s Old Trafford home tonight.

Chelsea midfielder Juan Mata is hoping to complete a remarkable clean sweep of pieces of silverware having been a member of Spain’s Euro 2012-winning squad after earlier lifting the Uefa Champions League in May with his club.

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