Brazil's Olympic soccer strength more than its strikers

Brazil's Marquinhos, left, and Honduras' Alberth Elis vie for the ball during a semi-final match of the men's Olympic football tournament between Brazil and Honduras at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday Aug. 17, 2016. Brazil won the match 6-0 and qualified to the final. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Despite all the talk at the Olympics about Brazil's talented strikers, it's the defense holding it together as the hosts try to win the soccer gold medal for the first time

RIO DE JANEIRO — Despite all the talk at the Olympics about Brazil's talented strikers, it's the defense that's holding the team together as the host tries to win the soccer gold medal for the first time.

Brazil has yet to concede a goal entering Saturday's final against Germany at the Maracana Stadium, helping keep the pressure off an offense led by Neymar and youngsters Gabigol and Gabriel Jesus.

"We are just doing our part," said defender Marquinhos, who on Wednesday scored a goal in the 6-0 rout of Honduras in the semifinals. "We know that if we keep playing well back there and don't concede any goals, the attack will guarantee us the victories."

Brazil is the only team with a clean sheet at the Olympic tournament, outscoring opponents 12-0 after five matches. Germany enters the final with 21 goals scored and five against.

"The entire team has been helping, and that's important," said central defender Rodrigo Caio. "The strikers have been coming back when needed. That makes our lives easier. If we can remain scoreless one more game, I'm sure we will be able to reach our goal of winning the gold."

Rodrigo Caio and Marquinhos are the leaders of the defense. Rodrigo Caio, 23, plays for Brazilian club Sao Paulo but soon will be on his way to Europe. The 22-year-old Marquinhos plays for Paris Saint-Germain in France, where he is often a starter.

Gifted right back Zeca, from Brazilian club Santos, where Neymar used to play, helps both on offense and defense, while 22-year-old Douglas Santos, who has played for small clubs in Spain and Italy, is solid on the left flank.

There used to be concern about the goalkeeper, Weverton, who was added to the team just before the tournament after regular starter Fernando Prass was dropped due to injury. But the 28-year-old Atletico Paranaense player has been doing well when needed. Despite Brazil's comfortable victory Wednesday over Honduras, he made two great saves in the second half to keep the sheet clean.

He also excelled in the first two games of the tournament, when the attack failed to score and Brazil was held to scoreless draws against South African and Iraq.

"We have found a good balance," Brazil coach Rogerio Micale said. "We have been doing well both on offense and on defense, and that's key for a team that wants to win a competition. We fully trust our defenders, just like we trust our strikers."

Brazil was the main favorite to win the Olympic gold, the only significant trophy it hasn't won in soccer. The five-time World Cup champions have won the silver medal three times and the bronze twice. Brazil lost to Mexico in the final four years ago in London, when Neymar also played.

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/tales-azzoni

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