Brazil and Germany end quest for Olympic football gold
Spearheaded by their star player, Neymar, Brazil’s men ended their long wait for a coveted Olympic football gold. Meanwhile European heavyweights Germany also clinched their first ever Olympic title in the women’s competition.
Brazil’s men’s football team went into Rio 2016 burdened with huge expectation as they sought a first ever Olympic title. Playing at home, and with the supremely gifted striker Neymar leading their attack, the host nation awaited with baited breath. However, consecutive goalless draws in their first two matches, against South Africa and Iraq, raised question marks over their ability to cope with the pressure, and left them facing the unthinkable but real possibility of an early exit.
In their final Group A match against Denmark on 10 August, the Seleçao finally discovered their mojo, producing a convincing 4-0 victory. That saw them through to the quarter-finals where Neymar opened the scoring against neighbours Colombia as Brazil secured a 2-0 victory. With the defence yet to concede a goal, and Neymar and his fellow attackers starting to hit form, it appeared as if the host nation had found some belated momentum. In the semi-final, Brazil faced Honduras, and wasted no time in imposing themselves as Neymar scored the quickest goal in Olympic history, after just 15 seconds. That opened the floodgates, as Brazil went on to win 6-1.
In Group C, meanwhile, Germany also got off to a slow start with two draws, albeit with no problems finding the net. Following a 2-2 draw against reigning Olympic champions Mexico, they shared six goals with the Republic of Korea. Their final group game turned into a goalfest, as they dispatched Fiji 10-0! In the quarter finals, Germany continued their free scoring with a 4-0 demolition of fellow Europeans Portugal, to set up a semi-final against Nigeria. The West Africans were defeated 2-0, which ensured that Rio’s famous Maracanã stadium would host a rematch of the 2014 FIFA World Cup semi-final, in which the hosts Brazil had suffered the worst defeat in their history, losing to the Germans 7-1.
A nation expects, Neymar deliversOn the evening of 20 August 2016, captained by Neymar, Brazil ran out in front of a capacity 78,000 crowd, and every other Brazilian who was not in the stadium glued to their TV sets. What followed was an incredibly intense encounter between the two best teams of the tournament.
Neymar opened the scoring in the first half with a brilliant free-kick from 20 metres, but the hosts were somewhat lucky to go in at half-time with the lead, as Germany hit the woodwork no less than three times. Shortly after the restart the Europeans scored a deserved equaliser shortly after the re-start. Sven Bender passed to the overlapping Jeremy Toljan and he found the unmarked Max Meyer, who arrowed a low shot into the net. After that, neither side could find a win-ner, which meant that the destiny of the gold medal would be determined in a penalty shoot-out.
Now it was time for Neymar to take centre stage. The 24-year-old stepped forward to take the most important penalty kick of his life and end Brazil’s unfortunate record of three Oympic final defeats. Seemingly oblivious to the pressure, he found the back of the net. He sank to his knees, before mimicking the famous Usain Bolt victory pose. “It’s the best thing that has ever happened to me,” said the Barcelona FC forward.
In an exciting match between the two beaten semi-finalists in Belo Horizonte, Nigeria defeated Honduras 3-2 to claim the bronze, and complete their set of Olympic medals, following their gold in 1996 and silver in 2008. Inspired by their captain Jon Obi Mikel, Nigeria’s victory came thanks to a double from Umar Sadiq and a third goal by Aminu Umar. Honduras reduced the deficit with two late efforts from Anthony Lozano and Marcelo Pereira.
Olympic glory at last for Germany’s womenOn 16 August, the Rio 2016 football tournament produced one of the biggest upsets ever witnessed in the women’s competition, when three-time and reigning Olympic champions USA were dramatically knocked out by Sweden, losing 4-3 in a penalty shoot-out after the two teams had drawn 1-1 in normal time.
Meanwhile, in Group F, Germany got off to a shaky start losing 2-1 to Canada, but then won their other two games to ensure progress to the knockout stage. In the quarter-final they overcame an obdurate Chinese team 1-0, before exacting revenge on the Canadians with a 2-0 victory in the semi-final.
That meant an all-European battle for the gold featuring two teams that had never previously reached an Olympic final. Germany had featured on the podium on three successive occasions, in 2000, 2004 and 2008, but on each one the colour of their medal had been bronze. Sweden meanwhile reached the final having won just one match in normal time, a 1-0 victory over South Africa in the group stage, and they had snuck through to the quarter-finals in third place in Group E.
And it was Marozsan who was responsible for Germany’s second goal just under quarter of an hour later, when her free-kick struck the post before taking an unlucky deflection off Swedish defender Linda Sembrant and into the net. Sweden reduced the deficit shortly afer through midfielder Olivia Schough, who then missed a great chance to equalise with three minutes left on the clock.
The Germans dug deep to hold onto their 2-1 lead and secure a first ever Olympic title. “I’m happy that we got the gold. It was a very tough match for us,” said Dzsenifer Marozsan, scorer of both of Germany’s goals, the first a snap shot, and the second a free-kick which was deflected into the net by the Swedish keeper after hitting the post Sweden play very deep, and breaking through the two defensive banks made it very difficult to score. We had to be very patient and show a lot of desire. But we never stopped believing in ourselves. Sweden always looked dangerous on the counterattack, so we had to be careful not to make any errors in defence. But we held out well.”