MANCHESTER: One by one, they were all knocked out. Uruguay, Spain, Britain.
Brazil is the only favorite left in the men's Olympic football tournament, so it has no excuse for leaving the London Games with anything less than the gold. First, though, it has to get past a South Korea team with a knack for surprises.
The two play in a semifinal match Tuesday.
“The pressure to win our first Olympics has always been there,” Brazil coach Mano Menezes said. “We need to make it happen this time.”
Brazil brought most of its top players to the Olympics and has been dominant so far, getting more wins and scoring more goals than any other team. South Korea, meanwhile, just barely made it through the first stage, backed by its strong defense, but is hoping for a second consecutive upset to add to its surprise elimination of host Britain in the quarterfinals.
The winner of the match at Old Trafford will play for the gold against either Mexico or Japan, which will face off in London in the other semifinal.
“There is an extra bit of tension in the matches now,” Menezes said.
“You are playing to try to get to a final, it's different.”
It would be only the third Olympic men's football final for Brazil, and the first since the 1988 Seoul Games. Brazil won the silver medal in Seoul and also four years earlier at the Los Angeles Games. Brazil got the bronze in 1996 in Atlanta and in 2008 in Beijing, when it lost the semifinal to Lionel Messi's Argentina.
“We know that our responsibility is increasing as we get closer to the final,” Brazil captain Thiago Silva said.
“And to get there we know that we will have a very difficult task trying to beat South Korea.”
South Korea, which has conceded only two goals in four matches so far, is making its first semifinal appearance at the Olympic Games. The team failed to advance past the group stage in Beijing four years ago.
South Korea has won outright only one match in this year's tournament, a 2-1 result against Switzerland that helped it advance past the first round following draws with Mexico and Gabon. It drew 1-1 with Britain in regulation and extra time before eliminating the hosts 5-4 on penalties in the quarterfinals.
“We are very pleased to play against one of the top teams in the world in a big tournament like this,” South Korea coach Hong Myung-bo said.
“It will be very good for the players and their experience.”
Brazil reached the semifinals by eliminating Honduras in a difficult match on Saturday in Newcastle. Brazil struggled and twice had to come back from deficits against a Honduran team which played with 10 men from the 33rd minute because of a red card.
“We expect to play better than we did against Honduras,” Silva said.
“South Korea wouldn't have reached the semifinals if it didn't have a good team. They certainly can play.”
The Mexicans arrived at the London Games as one of the medal contenders and were considered to have an outside chance for the gold. They are trying to improve from the fourth-place finish at the home games in Mexico City in 1968, when they lost the bronze to the Japanese.
Mexico was first in its group after victories against Gabon and Switzerland and a draw against South Korea. It eliminated Senegal 4-2 in extra time in the quarterfinals.
That third-place finish was Japan's best performance so far at the men's Olympic tournament. It reached the semifinals by beating Egypt 3-0. It won its group after a draw against Honduras and victories over Morocco and gold-favorite Spain.
The Spaniards and fellow favorites Uruguay didn't even make it past the group stage, and when Britain fell to South Korea, Brazil became the only top contender fighting for the gold.