Young stars will carry men’s soccer torch

Neymar will be the leader of a Brazil team which mostly will be at full-strength, filled with players who also will be at the World Cup it will host in 2014. The Olympic tournament is the only significant football title Brazil hasn’t won. Enlarge photo

Scott Heppell/Associated Press file photo

Neymar will be the leader of a Brazil team which mostly will be at full-strength, filled with players who also will be at the World Cup it will host in 2014. The Olympic tournament is the only significant football title Brazil hasn’t won.

SAO PAULO – With David Beckham’s Olympic dream over, it will be former teammate Ryan Giggs and young Brazilian star Neymar attracting all the attention at the men’s football tournament in London.

Beckham failed to make the British team, ending his chances to cap a successful career with an Olympic victory at home, so it will be up to the 38-year-old Manchester United veteran and the 20-year-old Brazilian sensation to try to create some hype about a competition which lacks the luster of football’s top events.

With only three players older than 23 allowed in each team, few fans would pay much attention to the tournament if it weren’t for the likes of Giggs and Neymar.

Neymar will be the leader of a Brazil team which mostly will be at full-strength, filled with players who also will be at the World Cup it will host in 2014. The Olympic tournament is the only significant football title Brazil hasn’t won.

Giggs will headline a Britain team which will be playing in the men’s Olympic football tournament for the first time since 1960. The hope was that Giggs would reunite with his former Manchester United teammate, but Beckham didn’t make the 18-man squad selected by coach Stuart Pearce.

“Everyone knows how much playing for my country has always meant to me, so I would have been honored to have been part of this unique Team GB squad,” Beckham said in a statement. “Naturally I am very disappointed, but there will be no bigger supporter of the team than me. And like everyone, I will be hoping they can win the gold.”

Beckham was hoping to make his national team for the first time since 2009. It would have been extra special to be on the Olympic team because he was very active in helping promote the London bid, lending his global brand to the city’s efforts. After London was selected as host in 2005, he became an official ambassador for the games.

Giggs is on the team with former Wales teammate Craig Bellamy and England defender Micah Richards – the overage players.

“I’ve not played in (an Olympic) tournament, so it would be nice to be involved in a tournament atmosphere I’ve never experienced,” Giggs said.

Neymar was only a few years old when Giggs and Beckham began playing together at Manchester United. As their careers are coming to an end, the Brazilian is just beginning to attract the world’s attention.

He is the player carrying Brazil’s hopes for success in London and at the 2014 World Cup. And the Olympics will give him a chance to prove that he can be the decisive player the entire country expects him to be.

Neymar already has been sought after by teams such as Chelsea, Real Madrid and Barcelona. He was in the list of 23 players running for FIFA’s player of the year award in 2011, and he won FIFA’s prize for the most beautiful goal that same year.

“To play in the Olympics is a dream for any athlete,” Neymar said. “Especially to play for Brazil, which has never won this competition before.”

The five-time World Cup champions won the Olympic silver in 1984 and 1988 and the bronze in 1996 and 2008, when Argentina took gold with Lionel Messi. The Argentines, which didn’t qualify for London, also won the gold in 2004.

Brazil is one of the favorites this year, along with host Britain and Spain, which won the under-21 European Championship last year to clinch its spot in the Olympic tournament.

The Brazilians have an advantage because it is the only team which will bring most of its top players. The senior squad is made up of several under-23 players, and they’ll all likely be in London, including Neymar, Alexandre Pato, Leandro Damiao, Oscar and Paulo Henrique Ganso.

“The Olympic tournament will mark an important stage in Brazil’s preparations for the World Cup,” Brazil coach Mano Menezes said.