As expected, Neymar is making the Men’s Olympic soccer tournament his own, though as Spain’s shocking exit reminds us, Olympic soccer shouldn’t be taken for granted. This may be a turbo charged under-23 tournament, but there’s plenty of talent involved.
That’s what makes what Neymar’s doing so special. The 20-year-old Brazilian attacker, already acclaimed as one of the world’s best (without having set foot in Europe), as two goals in two games, a description which vastly understates his influence. He’s been the key cog in a Brazil attack that’s scored six goals in two games.
You could argue that a world class player dominating the Olympics isn’t so newsworthy, but when somebody like Luis Suarez goes scoreless in two games, it’s difficult to argue goals are there for the taking. A look back at the recent history of stars in the Olympics shows there are just as many Suarezes as Neymars. While some legends have used the summer games to build their legacy, others have failed to make their mark.
Here’s a quick look at the recent history:
2008 – Lionel Messi was just beginning his ascent to world domination when he touched down in China. He scored Argentina’s first goal of the tournament in a win over Cote d’Ivoire but only managed one more in the Albiceleste’s final five games (a gift presented him by a Dutch giveaway). Finishing a perfect 6-0-0 record, Argentina claimed gold, their only hiccup a penalty kick shootout win over the Netherlands in the quarterfinals.
2004 – Cristiano Ronaldo was only 19 when he represented Portugal at the Athens games. The Seleccao disappointed, finishing at the bottom of Group D, though the young Ronaldo got on the scoresheet in the 40th minute of a Portugal win over Morocco. Coming off his first year at Manchester United, Ronaldo still impressed, putting on a memorable display of skill in his team’s opener against Iraq. The Iraqis went on to win the game, 4-2.
2000 – The Sydney games were star-studded, in hindsight. Ronaldinho was on Brazil’s squad, scoring in the 94th minute to earn the Selecao extra time in the quarterfinals (they’d lose to Cameroon on a golden goal). A 20-year-old Xavi Hernández helped Spain to silver, scoring twice (including in the final) as La Roja averaged two goals per game. But Samuel Eto’o, then 19, would end up claiming gold, scoring his only goal of the tournament in the final, eventually converting a penalty kick in the shootout.
1996 – Real Madrid legend Raúl scored twice for Spain, but a 20-year-old Ronaldo, fresh off his second season at PSV, was the man to watch. In six games, Ronaldo scored five times as Brazil took home bronze. Only Hernán Crespo and teammate Bebeto had more goals in the tournament.
1988 – Two strikers that would go on to win world titles featured in South Korea. Jurgen Klinsmann scored four times for one of West Germany’s final teams, the squad claiming the bronze in a 3-0 third-place match win over Italy. Brazil’s Romario, however, would be the tournament’s leading scorer, posting seven goals. Unfortunately, it was one too few, as Brazil lost the gold medal match to the Soviet Union, 2-1.
1984 – Roger Milla got Cameroon’s Olympics off to a strong start, scoring 32 minutes in to the Indomitable Lions’ first match (against powerhouse Yugoslavia). Cameroon would eventually lose that match and fail to get out of group, with Canada beating them 3-1 in Boston in Group B’s third game. Milla finished with that one goal.
1976 – Michel Platini and Hugo Sanchez were drawn into the same group, with only Platini’s France making it out. He scored three times in group play before Les Bleus ran into East Germany in the quarterfinals, losing 4-0. Sanchez had a late consolation goal in his meeting with Platini’s France, but he would be kept off the scoresheet against Israel and Guatemala.
1972 – Falcão started two of Brazil’s three games (and appeared in all of them), but it was a poor tournament for the Selecao. Only 19 years old and yet to start his professional career with Internacional, Falcão wasn’t in much of a position to help. They finished bottom of a group that included Hungary, Denmark, and Iraq. The tournament’s star was Poland’s Kazimierz Deyna, who scored nine goals in seven games, leading his team to gold. Deyna would eventually become a star in the NASL with San Diego, ending his career with the team as it moved into the Major Indoor Soccer League.