Veteran Alves but no Neymar as Brazil eyes soccer gold again

HIGHLIGHTS FROM RIO: Brazil winning gold lifted the footballing mood of the nation two years after a humiliating, 7-1 loss to Germany at the last major sporting event to be held in the country — the World Cup. Neymar’s status as a national hero was also cemented when he scored from a free kick and added the winning kick of the Olympic final penalty shootout against Germany. The boisterous celebrations spread far from the Maracana Stadium.

TOKYO EXPECTATIONS: Brazil starting the group stage in Rio five years ago with two draws shows how difficult it can be to even advance as one of the two top-placed teams in a group. This time, the reigning champion has not only Germany to overcome but less esteemed challengers Saudi Arabia and the Ivory Coast. France is hotly tipped for glory but has a group with host Japan, Mexico, which won the CONCACAF qualifying tournament, and South Africa.

ATHLETES TO WATCH: Neymar won’t be able to win a second gold because, unlike in 2016, he’s playing at the Copa America. Maybe it’s time for a star of this year’s host nation to shine such as Takefusa Kubo, who flaunted his skills by nutmegging four opponents when Japan played an Olympic warmup against Jamaica in June. The winger is a Real Madrid player who has spent his time in Spain on loan at Mallorca, Villarreal and Getafe. At the other end of the age spectrum, Brazil is taking the 38-year-old Dani Alves, the former Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona defender now back in his homeland with Sao Paulo.

GOLD MEDAL MOMENTS: The gold medal match is set for Aug. 7 in Yokohama.

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