Some Gold for Brazil Is Possible

Article excerpt

Romario, the star of Brazil's World Cup championship in 1994, won't be making an encore at the Olympics.

That probably won't help the rest of the field, because the Brazilians are still loaded as they seek their first Olympic gold.

The United States is an outsider in the competition, which primarily is limited to players under 23. The tournament features first-round games at Birmingham, Ala.; Miami; Orlando, Fla.; and Washington. The medal round will be at Athens, Ga.

The absence of the high-scoring Romario is a measure of the depth of new talent that makes Brazil the favorite.

"The order is to bring back the only title that Brazilian soccer doesn't have," said Ricardo Teixeira, president of the Brazilian Soccer Confederation.

To do it, Brazil boasts an exceptionally skilled and versatile generation of players ideally suited to the Olympic regulation, which allows each team just three players over 23.

"The variety of talent gives us a million alternatives with this group," said Mario Zagallo, coach of both the national and Olympic teams.

Only two starters from the 1994 World Cup team were picked as wild cards: veteran forward Bebeto and defender Aldair. The third over-23 spot went to Rivaldo, a gifted playmaker and scorer from the Palmeiras club, whom Zagallo calls the best player in the country.

As usual with Brazilian teams, the attack is its strong suit.

Bebeto, 32, remains at the top of his game. Replacing Romario will be 19-year-old Ronaldinho, who proved his recovery from knee surgery with a strong showing in Brazil's 3-1 victory over Poland in an exhibition game June 26.

But many, including Zagallo, say the player to watch is Savio, a quick forward on Flamengo.

The midfield also is deep in talent. Rivaldo divides playmaking chores with Juninho, who stars for Middlesbrough in England's Premier League.

The defense, however, makes Brazil fans somewhat nervous.

On the left side, Roberto Carlos earned the starting berth more for his booming left-footed shot than for his defense. …