CARDIFF, Wales — Gold-medal favorite Brazil scored three first-half goals then held on for a 3-2 win over Egypt in its opening Olympic match in Group C on Thursday.
Rafael opened the scoring in the 16th minute, Leandro Damiao added another in the 26th and Neymar scored in the 30th to give Brazil a comfortable halftime lead before Egypt made it interesting with goals by captain Mohamed Aboutrika in the 52nd and substitute Mohamed Salah in the 76th.
Brazil was able to control the rest of the game and held on for the victory, staying on track for its first gold in Olympic men’s soccer. It leads Group C along with Belarus, which beat New Zealand 1-0 in Coventry.
“We got what we needed in the opening match, and that was the victory,” Brazil coach Mano Menezes said. “We built our result with a very good performance in the first half but we couldn’t repeat it in the second, in part because Egypt improved and in part because of our own mistakes.”
The Olympic tournament is the only significant soccer competition the five-time world champions haven’t conquered. Brazil earned silver medals in 1984 and 1988, and bronze ones in 1996 and 2008.
Brazil is one of the few teams with many of its top players in the Olympic tournament and is one of the top contenders for the gold. Several of its players likely will be on the team that will try to win the World Cup at home in 2014.
Egypt dominated the first few minutes of the match at Millennium Stadium but Brazil slowly grabbed control.
The Egyptians entered the competition trying to restore some of the country’s soccer pride nearly six months after the stadium riot that killed more than 70 people and forced the suspension of the national league.
Manchester United right back Rafael scored the first goal after a perfect through ball by newly signed Chelsea playmaker Oscar. Rafael cleared a defender with one touch and fired a low left-footed shot into the net.
“We showed our quality in the first half,” Rafael said. “We weren’t able to keep playing as well but in the end it was a good result.”
Oscar set up the second goal too, beating a defender and the goalkeeper to a long ball lobbed into the area and sending a pass back toward Damiao, whose shot easily got past the lone Egyptian defender trying to block the net.
“We got off on the right foot,” Oscar said. “The first match is always hard but we have to be proud of what we did in the first half.”
Neymar, seen as Brazil’s future star, added to the lead after finding Hulk open on the left side of the area. The FC Porto forward crossed the ball back and Neymar headed it in from close range.
Egypt pulled one closer after a set piece from just outside the area in the 52nd. Meteab Emad struck the post after the cross into the box and Aboutrika scored off the rebound.
Salah got the Egyptians even closer after the defenders failed to clear a ball inside the area and allowed him to get a shot into the left corner.
“If we hadn’t the mistakes in the first half maybe we could’ve had a better result at the end, but that’s football, we will have to learn from it,” Egypt coach Hany Ramzy said. “I’m proud of my team, especially in the second half.”
Brazil employed an offensive scheme that included Oscar, Neymar, Hulk and Leandro Damiao near the front, but it was Egypt which started well and had the game’s first chance with forward Mohamed El Neny in the third minute. He made it through the Brazilian defense inside the area but had his tough angle shot tipped wide by goalkeeper Neto.
Neymar nearly scored in the 10th after a nice play by Hulk, who cleared a defender in the box and set up the striker’s low shot that went just wide. Neymar’s firm header in the 54th also came close, forcing Ahmed Elshenawi to make a difficult save.
Salah put more pressure on Brazil after Egypt’s first goal in the second half, but he took too long to get a shot off and his close range strike was blocked in the 56th.
Neto was making his debut with the Brazilian national team after replacing injured regular starter Rafael, who was dropped from the squad earlier in the week because of a right elbow injury from practice.
Neto nearly gave a goal away early in the first half when he allowed an Egyptian striker to get too close to him and almost didn’t have time to get the ball away.
The match was played in front of nearly 27,000 mostly pro-Brazil fans at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff, Wales.
Brazil will play its second match against Belarus on Sunday while Egypt will face New Zealand the same day.
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