Giant on the move
The Olympic soccer tournament does not cut much ice in Europe but it is taken much more seriously in South America. Brazil have won the World Cup five times, the Copa America eight and the Confederations Cup twice and their failure to add an Olympic gold to their collection rankles.
It would be especially painful if their latest attempt to win the competition is ended by their greatest rivals.
So, when the two sides meet in the Beijing Workers Stadium in Tuesday’s semi-final, it will not be quite the real thing but almost — possibly around 70 percent.
Spanish clubs are often cast as villains in South America. One minute they are refusing to release players to play for their respective national teams, the next they are accused of exploiting loopholes in transfer regulations to poach young talent without paying a penny.
Earlier this year, Vasco da Gama angrily accused Real Madrid of trying to make an offer to 15-year-old Philippe Coutinho behind their back. The club said that Real had offered a job to the player’s father and the chance to live abroad.
News just out that the Court of Arbitration for Sport has ruled in favour of Barcelona and decided they will not have to release Argentine forward Lionel Messi for the Olympics.
Assuming Barcelona do not have a change of heart, it means one of the biggest-name athletes at the Games will not be taking part. Brazilians Diego and Rafinha, of Werder Bremen and Schalke 04, will now also presumably be going home.
The Olympic soccer tournament, which starts next Thursday, has enjoyed unprecedented publicity in the run-up to Beijing, unwittingly helped by the belligerent attitude of the European clubs.
In their attempts to avoid releasing Argentina striker Lionel Messi for the Games, Barcelona helped raise the profile of the competition to a level it has rarely enjoyed in the past.
Barcelona finally relented last Wednesday when FIFA reinforced its ruling that clubs must release their under-23 players, although the Spanish club have appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sports and will demand the player fly back from China if there is a ruling in their favour.