The Olympic men's football tournament: Breeding ground for Brazil's superstars 

Neymar of Brazil celebrates scoring the winning penalty in the penalty shoot out during the Men's Football Final between Brazil and Germany at the Maracana Stadium on August 20, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Neymar of Brazil celebrates scoring the winning penalty in the penalty shoot out during the Men's Football Final between Brazil and Germany at the Maracana Stadium on August 20, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

The Olympics have always offered Brazil's up-and-comers an early chance to shine on the international stage. From Los Angeles 1984 to Rio 2016, here are the budding footballers who shot to stardom at the Olympics and beyond. 

Los Angeles 1984

The LA Olympics were the first to allow professionals to feature (though not South American or European players who had previously played at a senior FIFA World Cup finals). There was one name on the Brazil squad list, however, that went on to become one of the most recognised in the country's football: Dunga

Having played in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 1983, Dunga was selected by Brazil to represent his country at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics. At only 21-years-old, Dunga played on the team that went home with a silver medal, having been beaten by a Guy Lacombe- led France 2-0 in the final.

However, that was just the beginning of Dunga's legendary career. The defensive midfielder went on to captain Brazil, leading the team to victory in the World Cup in 1994 in the United States. He also went on to have a hugely successful managerial career, taking the helm of the senior national team from 2006-2010 and 2014-2016.

Los Angeles 1984 OG, Football Men - Qualification, Morocco (MAR) - Brazil (BRA) 2nd.
Los Angeles 1984 OG, Football Men - Qualification, Morocco (MAR) - Brazil (BRA) 2nd.
© 1984 / IOPP / REEH, Hartmut

Seoul 1988

Four years after their semi-final appearance in the USA, Brazil once again qualified for the Olympic football tournament. The squad that turned out for Brazil that summer included three legends of the game: deadly striker Careca, who partnered football legend Maradona at Napoli, goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel, who saved three penalties in the 1988 Olympics semifinal and ended his career with 101 appearances for Brazil, and Romario, scorer of 56 goals in 70 senior caps for the national team and 890 goals at club level, including 129 in 145 games for PSV Eindhoven.

In the Seoul 1988 men's football tournament, Romario scored seven goals in six games to top the scoring charts. Once again, the team collected the silver medal, falling at the last hurdle to a 2-1 defeat against the Soviet Union.

But soon after the Olympics, Romario moved to PSV Eindhoven, before he left for Barcelona to form one half of a deadly partnership with Bulgarian legend Hristo Stoichkov.

Romario scores seven goals in six matches | Seoul 1988
01:22

The Brazil legend moved to PSV Eindhoven shortly after the Games.

Atlanta 1996

Fast-forward eight years to the Atlanta Games (Brazil were not present at Barcelona 1992) and Brazil were once again led by a group of players who would go on to achieve legendary status. Rivaldo, 24 and still on the books of Palmeiras a full six years before he would join Barcelona, Roberto Carlos - a future legend at Real Madrid and winner of the 2002 World Cup, Bebeto, who would be a key player in Brazil's 1994 World Cup win and become Brazil's topscorer in Olympic competition after 1996 (eight goals in 12 games), and one 19-year-old who would go on to be named the world's best footballer on three occasions and score 247 goals in 343 games at club level: Ronaldo.

At the Atlanta Olympics, Brazil lost out 4-3 to eventual winner Nigeria in the quarterfinals, going on to win the bronze medal after a 5-0 drubbing of Portugal. Following the tournament, Ronaldo left PSV in the Netherlands for Spanish giants Barcelona, where he scored 34 goals in 37 games. The rest, as they say, is history.

Atlanta 1996 OG, Football Men - Small final, Brazil (BRA) 3rd - Portugal (POR). RONALDO (BRA).
Atlanta 1996 OG, Football Men - Small final, Brazil (BRA) 3rd - Portugal (POR). RONALDO (BRA).
© 1996 / Kishimoto/IOC

Sydney 2000

Of all the names on Brazil's Sydney 2000 squad list, there is one that stands above the rest. At only 20 years old and still plying his trade with Brazilian club side Gremio, Ronaldinho was chosen to represent his country in the Olympic football tournament.

Brazil, by their own lofty standards, had a disappointing tournament in Australia, reaching the quarterfinals before being beaten by a Cameroon side led by the mercurial striker Samuel Eto'o. However, for a young Ronaldinho, it represented an opportunity to gain vital international experience before launching an unforgettable onslaught on the European game.

Twice named FIFA World Player of the Year, Ronaldinho went on to win the 2002 World Cup, the 2005-2006 UEFA Champions League trophy, two La Liga titles and one Copa America. He is still considered one of the greatest players to have ever graced a football field.

12 Sep 2000:  Ronaldinho of Brazil at training for the Brazilian Olympic Soccer team at the Gabba in Brisbane, Australia. Mandatory Credit: Darren England/ALLSPORT
12 Sep 2000: Ronaldinho of Brazil at training for the Brazilian Olympic Soccer team at the Gabba in Brisbane, Australia. Mandatory Credit: Darren England/ALLSPORT

Beijing 2008

The Beijing tournament once again saw Brazil installed as one of the favourites. They arrived with a squad that included a 20-year-old Marcelo - already playing at Real Madrid - 18-year-old Alex Pato, considered at the time one of the brightest young stars in football and, once again, a 28-year-old Ronaldinho, who was hoping to exact revenge eight years after his Sydney 2000 disappointment.

Once again, Brazil faced disappointment at the Olympics, losing 3-0 to winners Argentina - whose team included Sergio 'Kun' Aguero and a young Lionel Messi - in the semis. They won the bronze medal with a 3-0 victory over Belgium, but the wait for gold went on.

SHANGHAI, CHINA - AUGUST 22:  Ronaldinho of Brazil looks on during the Bronze Medal Match between Belgium and Brazil at Shanghai Stadium on Day 14 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 22, 2008 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Rodolfo Buhrer/Getty Images)
SHANGHAI, CHINA - AUGUST 22: Ronaldinho of Brazil looks on during the Bronze Medal Match between Belgium and Brazil at Shanghai Stadium on Day 14 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 22, 2008 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Rodolfo Buhrer/Getty Images)
2008 Getty Images

London 2012

For a country so used to winning - Brazil's senior team had won five World Cups by 2012 - coming third at the Olympics was never going to be seen as enough. However, in London, new stars entered the frame, including the human battering ram Hulk, young Chelsea playmaker Oscar and, for the first time on the Olympic stage, the extravagantly skillful forward Neymar Jr., who at 20 years old was still contracted to Brazilian club Santos.

With Neymar pulling the strings, Brazil went on a run that took them all the way to the final. But in the gold-medal match, the team was stunned by Mexico, losing 2-1 in London's famous Wembley Stadium in one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history.

Neymar left Santos the following year to embark upon a glittering career with Barcelona, where he teamed up with Argentina's Lionel Messi and French maestro Thierry Henry, among others, and won the continental treble of La Liga, the UEFA Champions League and the Copa del Rey in the 2014-2015 season, following it up with the domestic double a year later.

However, for Neymar, there was still unfinished business at the Games - a gap in his trophy cabinet that he would seek to fill four years later at his home Olympics in Rio.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 11:  Oscar of Brazil, Neymar of Brazil and Hulk of Brazil look on with their silver medals during the medal ceremony for the Men's Football Final between Brazil and Mexico on Day 15 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Wembley Stadium on August 11, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 11: Oscar of Brazil, Neymar of Brazil and Hulk of Brazil look on with their silver medals during the medal ceremony for the Men's Football Final between Brazil and Mexico on Day 15 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Wembley Stadium on August 11, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
2012 Getty Images

Rio 2016

Four years after their final defeat in London, Brazil had a chance at redemption - and this time at a home Olympic Games in Rio. Among their ranks, Brazil counted on a 19-year-old Gabriel Jesus - now playing for Premier League giants Manchester City - 22-year-old Paris Saint Germain defensive stalwart Marquinhos and, out for revenge after London 2012, Neymar.

After a 2-0 win against Colombia in the quarterfinals, Brazil smashed Honduras 6-0 in the semis. It left only them only one game away from Olympic glory.

In the final against Germany, Brazil struck first, with Neymar scoring a free-kick in the 27th minute. Germany hit back in the second half, with Max Meyer levelling the scores to take the game to extra-time. With no team able to find the opening needed to win the game, the match went to penalties.

And finally, after a final spot-kick from Neymar struck the back of the net, Brazil won the trophy they had coveted for so long 5-4 on penalties.

Men’s Football Final - Rio 2016
52:00

Two great football nations, Brazil and Germany, clashed in an epic gold medal final featuring Neymar against twins Lars and Sven Bender.