LOCALS IN LONDON
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LONDON — Brazilian players were treated to a barbecue with relatives to celebrate having reached the Olympic final for the first time in 24 years. It was the most relaxed moment so far in a month that's been all business as they try to win the nation's first gold in football.
Now it's time to get back to work.
After some rare time off, the Brazilians returned to practice on Thursday and started focusing again on the final against Mexico on Saturday at Wembley.
The team is looking for that elusive gold and players say they can't wait to try to do something not even former greats such as Romario, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo could achieve.
Brazil has won four Olympic medals, but none of them gold. The Olympic tournament is the only significant football competition the five-time world champion hasn't won.
The Brazilian federation arranged a traditional Brazilian barbecue for the players on Wednesday, the day after the team beat South Korea 3-1 in the semifinals. The players' relatives were allowed to participate and they all spent the afternoon singing and enjoying the time together, their first break since Brazil began preparing for the Olympics in early July.
"It was a special moment to be together with our relatives in a moment like this," defensive midfielder Sandro said. "Everyone here went through a lot of difficulties at some point in our lives and now we are one match away from being able to make history with the Brazilian national team."
Brazil will be playing in its third Olympic final, but the first since the 1988 Seoul Games, when a team led by Romario, Bebeto and Careca had to settle for the silver after losing the final 2-1 to the Soviet Union.
"We know that so many great Brazilian players have tried to win this gold and failed," said Neymar, Brazil's biggest star at the London Games. "We know how difficult it is to win it, because otherwise all these great players would have won it already."
Four years ago in Beijing, Ronaldinho was the Brazilian star who couldn't succeed as Brazil finished with the bronze after losing a semifinal to Lionel Messi's Argentina. In the 1996 Atlanta Games, it was Bebeto and Ronaldo who failed in the quest for gold, also returning home with the bronze.
Former midfielder and coach Dunga was in the team which got the silver at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, when Brazil lost the final 2-0 to France.
"We are here representing all generations of players who tried and were not able to win this tournament before," Neymar said.
This year's players will also make history if they don't win the gold on Saturday.
Brazil came to the London Games as the main gold-medal contender because most of its top players make the tournament's under-23 age limit, including Neymar, Sandro, Oscar and Leandro Damiao. Brazil's status as favorite was further strengthened after Spain and Uruguay were eliminated in the first stage and host Britain lost in the quarterfinals.
Most of the players who reached the Olympic final will also likely be in the team trying to give Brazil the World Cup title at home in 2014, so the expectations are high.
The Brazilian federation hinted before the Olympics that winning the gold was the priority this year and that a failure in London would likely mean changes in the team as it enters the final stretch of preparations for the World Cup and next year's Confederations Cup in Brazil.
"We can't worry about the pressure," said striker Leandro Damiao, the tournament's leading scorer with six goals. "We all know how much this means to us and to everybody else in Brazil. We have to go out there and do our job and win."