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Golden goal: Can boys from Brazil achieve Olympic dream?

By Paul Gittings, CNN
updated 10:37 AM EDT, Fri March 23, 2012
Anderson, left, and his Brazil teammates try to take the ball off Lionel Messi in the 2008 Olympic semifinal against Argentina, who won 3-0 and went on to take gold. Anderson, left, and his Brazil teammates try to take the ball off Lionel Messi in the 2008 Olympic semifinal against Argentina, who won 3-0 and went on to take gold.
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Brazil's Olympic mission
Only bronze in Beijing
Seoul destroying
Romario's reward
Girls from Brazil also miss out
Tears of a football legend
'Pentacampeoes'
Atlanta anguish
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Brazil favorites for the Olympic football tournament at London 2012 Olympics
  • Five-time World Cup winners have never won Olympic gold in national sport
  • Manchester star Anderson says winning gold on a par with winning the World Cup
  • Teammate Rafael da Silva in provisional 52-man Brazil squad for Games

(CNN) -- Football is part of the lifeblood of the people of Brazil, who have seen their heroes lift the FIFA World Cup a record five times since 1958.

From the legendary Pele, who inspired that initial success in Sweden and also played in the 1962 and 1970 winning teams, through to the eras of Romario, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, ordinary Brazilians have delighted in their exploits.

Because Brazil's "Samba Boys" don't just win, they win in style, capturing the imagination of a population often struggling with poverty and inequality.

"I would say it is all about the joy football brings," Manchester United's Brazilian star Anderson told CNN.

Brazil's quest for Olympic glory

"It's about the children who maybe don't have enough food at home, who don't have a dad or a mum, but they go outside to play football even with bare feet and they feel joy and happiness to do it. It happened to me and many of my friends when we were growing up.

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"Football helps a lot of people in Brazil. If you took football away from Brazilians, you would be affecting the nation's heart."

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That's why it's a matter of some national concern that Brazil, a football-mad country with a seemingly neverending conveyor belt of talent, has never won the Olympic tournament -- not with its men, or its also highly-talented women.

And with Brazil hosting the 2014 World Cup, and the Olympics two years after that, the pressure is on.

The 2008 Beijing Games provided the latest disappointments, with a men's team sporting the likes of two-time world player of the year Ronaldinho and future AC Milan star Alexandre Pato crashing out in the semifinals to Argentina, losing 3-0 and ending up with the bronze medal.

The women's side, including five-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta, had to settle for silver for the second straight Olympics.

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Midfielder Anderson, who played in the Argentina match, admits that the failure hurt -- and not just because Brazil's South American archrivals went on to claim the gold medal for the second successive time.

"We had hoped to win the gold medal because we had great players like Ronaldinho, Pato ... I was there, other stars as well, but we couldn't do it," he said.

"To be honest it didn't hurt more to lose to Argentina. What hurt is that we lost the chance to win a gold medal that we could take home and show our family and our kids. That's what hurt the most. We were sad, our families were sad. To me and the rest of the squad it was very sad."

Anderson is unlikely to be part of Brazil's bid for golden glory at London 2012, having been left out of coach Mano Menezes' provisional 52-man squad.

To win a football gold medal at the Olympics for Brazil would be like winning the World Cup
Anderson

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It's a powerful lineup which includes rising stars Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso, who both ply their trade for Santos in the Brazilian league but have been linked with several top European clubs.

Ronaldinho, Chelsea defender David Luiz and Barcelona's Dani Alves are among the more established stars hoping to be named as one of the three players aged over 23 who will be allowed in the final 18-man squad.

Anderson knows the pressure of expectation on their shoulders, and what winning the tournament would mean to the players and his nation.

"To win a football gold medal at the Olympics for Brazil would be like winning the World Cup," he said. "I am really hoping and praying that we can do it."

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Anderson's Manchester United teammate Rafael da Silva has also been picked, and will likely be battling Alves for the right-back berth.

The 21-year-old has a burning ambition to be part of Brazil's first gold medal-winning team.

"You can't even describe how much I want it -- I really want to play these Olympics, I want to win them," Rafael told CNN. "It will be an enormous pride to win this for Brazil."

You can't even describe how much I want it...I really want to play these Olympics, I want to win them
Rafael da Silva

His twin brother Fabio, also part of United first-team squad, may have to wait to achieve his Olympic dream after being left out of the provisional squad.

"We started having this dream since we were about 10 years old," Fabio said,"because Brazil never had won this medal and I would talk to my brother and say, 'It would be great for us to get that gold medal, that Brazil never had.' "

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This time the Olympic tournament will be missing Argentina, who failed to qualify, but Anderson is warning against complacency.

"Of course Argentina have great players and are a great team, but there are other teams we must worry about because at the Olympics you never know what you are going to get since every nation wants to take home a medal. It's a tough competition, a great competition," he said.

Fabio agreed: "There are also strong sides coming from Africa and even the Great Britain team, they have good players and they have home advantage."

Rafael chipped in: "Imagine playing against Britain in the UK... Imagine... Old Trafford... semifinals!"

Before the excitement of the Olympics, United's Brazilian contingent have their parts to play in bringing a record-extending 20th English title to Old Trafford.

There are also strong sides coming from Africa and even the Great Britain team, they have good players and they have home advantage
Fabio da Silva

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Neighbors Manchester City provide the main challenge, having headed the standings for much of the season until United took over at the top earlier this month.

"City are now a real contender while we have had a history of success for many years," said Anderson.

"We have had a lot of injuries but now we have most people fit and when that is the case we are very hard to beat."

The top two meet at City's Etihad Stadium on April 30 in what many believe will be the EPL title decider, but Rafael believes the games before that showdown will be equally decisive.

"We need to think about winning games that we have, particularly away from home. When it's closer, we can start thinking about the game against them, which it will be a great match of course," he said

All three Brazilians are indebted to the guidance they have received from legendary United manager Alex Ferguson in their time with the Red Devils.

"He's a manager with a lot of experience and he passes on a little bit of everything he says," was Fabio's verdict.

"He tries his best to be honest with the players. I think that's really important," said Rafael.

Anderson said that when the 70-year-old finally decides to retire, it will leave a massive void.

"When Ferguson leaves Manchester United, the club will miss him a lot. He is fundamental for this club. When he leaves, I am telling you, people will be so sad because he is special, he is different. His history of success shows that."

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