CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Brazil's starting goalkeeper Rafael has been ruled out of the men's Olympic squad after injuring his right elbow in a practice session just two days before the team's opening match.
Brazil team doctors said exams Tuesday showed the injury will keep Rafael on the sidelines for up to three weeks, ending his hopes of playing in the Olympics. Brazil will begin its quest for its first Olympic gold medal in football against Egypt on Thursday at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
The 22-year-old Santos goalkeeper was injured Monday when he collided with a practice dummy as he reached for a high ball crossed into the penalty box.
He said he was able to continue practicing despite the initial pain but started to lose movement in the arm during the day, prompting doctors to conduct tests.
"It's hard to try to explain why things like this happen," Rafael said. "But I'd like to think that it all happens for a reason and I will overcome all of this in the end."
Rafael, touted to be Brazil's goalkeeper at the 2014 World Cup at home, broke his leg a few years ago just before making his professional debut with Santos, but eventually recovered to help lead the team to titles including the Brazilian Cup and the Copa Libertadores.
Neto, a 23-year-old reserve goalkeeper for Fiorentina, will be Brazil's starter during the Olympic tournament.
Since joining the Italian club early in 2011, Neto has played only three official matches, and will be making his national team debut when Brazil plays Egypt.
"I didn't play regularly during the season but I played some matches near the end, that helped me get into a good rhythm coming into the Olympics," Neto said. "I'm prepared and focused. I feel confident."
Recently signed 19-year-old AC Milan goalkeeper Gabriel, who was on coach Mano Menezes' standby list, has been drafted into the squad as the reserve goalkeeper. The Brazilian football federation said Atletico Mineiro goalkeeper Renan Ribeiro will take Gabriel's spot on standby.
Menezes said the changes will not take away from Brazil's chances at the Olympics.
"We are sad with the loss, of course, but all of our goalkeepers are at the same level heading into this tournament," the coach said Tuesday. "We are fully confident that Neto is prepared and having him as our starting goalkeeper won't affect how we play."
The Olympic tournament is the only significant football competition Brazil hasn't won. The five-time World Cup champions won the Olympic silver in 1984 and 1988 and the bronze in 1996 and 2008.
There are high expectations this time as Brazil is one of the few teams bringing some of its top players for the Olympic tournament, which is played with under-23 squads plus three overage players. Among those in the team are Neymar, Thiago Silva, Marcelo, Oscar, Hulk, Lucas and Leandro Damiao, players who will also likely be in the World Cup squad in two years.
After playing Egypt, Brazil will face Belarus at Old Trafford on Sunday and New Zealand in Newcastle on Aug. 1.
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