The disappointing 0-0 draw against 10-man South Africa prompted loud boos from the crowd and renewed fears of another embarrassment at home just two years after a humiliating 7-1 loss to Germany in the World Cup semifinals.
Thursday’s result in Brasilia heaped pressure on a young team that has the task of helping the nation regain lost pride by winning its first Olympic gold medal in football. The Olympic gold is the only trophy the five-time World Cup champions haven’t won.
“The pressure has always been there,” coach Rogerio Micale said. “We can’t be affected by a result like this early in the competition. We have to recover as fast as possible because we still have two important games ahead.”
Demands are high on Brazil’s Olympic team because it is led by Neymar and some of the country’s most promising players, including forwards Gabriel Jesus and Gabigol. The team arrived as the main favorite to win the gold in a tournament with very few stars.
Only victory will be enough for the demanding home fans, who still vividly recall the humiliating loss to Germany. Most recently Brazil was embarrassed at the Copa America when it failed to advance past the group stage of the continental competition.
Neymar skipped the Copa America to try to help Brazil win Olympic gold, but he was far from his best as Brazil struggled against South Africa. He failed with his few scoring chances and was visibly frustrated. Gabriel Jesus and Gabigol also weren’t able to capitalize on their opportunities.
Gabriel Jesus, who two days ago reached a multimillion-dollar deal to transfer from Brazilian club Palmeiras to Manchester City, missed an open goal in the game’s biggest chance. The 19-year-old striker said he was ashamed and wouldn’t sleep at night because of the miss.
“It’s not because of one move that you should feel dejected like that,” Neymar said. “Sometimes the ball won’t go in, but that’s not going to happen all the time. It’s part of the game. You have to keep your head high and move on.”
Brazil plays Iraq on Sunday, when every new miss is likely to draw more jeers from the nearly 60,000 fans expected to pack the Mane Garrincha Stadium in Brasilia.
“We need the support from the fans, that’s important for our players,” Micale said. “Nobody likes to start the competition like we did, without playing the way everybody expected us to play, but we know we can improve, and we will recover.”