SAO PAULO (AP) – Brazil didn’t need Marta to win at the Rio Games. All it took was a speech from its ex-coach and a couple of goals from its latest wonder kid.
A call of support from Luiz Felipe Scolari and goals by promising youngster Gabigol helped put Brazil back on track at the Olympic tournament – the hosts defeated Denmark 4-0 on Wednesday to reach the quarterfinals and keep alive their hopes of winning the gold medal for the first time.
Brazil was in danger of an embarrassing elimination at home after struggling in the first two games, when frustrated fans jeered Neymar was jeered and the name of women’s star Marta was brought up by Brazilians as a solution. Fans chanted that “Marta was better than Neymar” several times across soccer host cities.
Olympic coach Rogerio Micale, in his first high-profile job, admitted he was struggling.
He got some help from a man with plenty of experience dealing with both success and adversity: Scolari, Brazil’s coach when it won the 2002 World Cup and when it was eliminated by Germany in the historic 7-1 loss in the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup at home.
“I got a call from Felipao. He showed his support, wished me luck, said he had trust in the work being done,” the 47-year-old Micale said. “It was a great honor to know that he was worried with this situation all the way back in China (where he coaches). It shows what a great coach and what a great man he is.”
Scolari went through similar difficulties before the 2002 World Cup, when Brazil’s national team didn’t have the support of the home fans after almost failing to qualify to the tournament in South Korea and Japan.
“He is a coach with experience,” Micale said. “He understands this moment that we were going through. He wanted to encourage us.”
Micale said he has also been getting support from senior team coach Tite, who made an important visit to the team after the disappointing scoreless draws against South Africa and Iraq.
“It’s always important to have Tite around us,” he said. “His experience is always welcomed.”
The easy going Micale has been Brazil’s under-23 coach but was not expected to be head of the team at the Olympics. He was given the job when Dunga was fired and replaced by Tite, who didn’t want to take over both national teams.
Micale said he was relieved after Brazil escaped elimination with the win against Denmark on Wednesday, with goals from Gabigol and also from Luan and Gabriel Jesus, another promising star who was yet to show his potential despite high expectations. Gabriel Jesus reached a multimillion-dollar deal to transfer to Manchester City just before the tournament began, while Gabigol is expected to soon make the move to European soccer. Both players had struggled in the first two matches.
Barcelona’s Neymar also played better on Wednesday.
“The effort was there in the first matches, we tried hard but the results didn’t happen,” Neymar said. “This time we had more patience and we were able to score goals and get the result we wanted. The fans want to see goals and that didn’t happen in the previous games, so they get a little upset, but they need to understand that we are not here to joke around. We are here to play football and do our best.”
Brazil, which will play Colombia in the quarterfinals on Saturday in Sao Paulo, remains the main favorite to win the Olympic gold, which is the only major trophy the five-time World Cup champions haven’t won in soccer.