Brazil seek to end quest for football gold, as Germany go for historic double
In the men’s football final host nation Brazil – five times World Cup winners – take on European heavyweights Germany as they seek to end their quest for an elusive Olympic gold. The Germans will also be going for gold in the women’s final, when they face surprise package Sweden in Rio.
The first half was not even over and Brazilian fans, 3-0 up in the semi-final against Honduras, were chanting: “Germany, just you wait, your time is coming.”
A few hours later, their wish came true as the Germans beat Nigeria 2-0 in the other semi-final. One of the most intriguing sub-plots of Rio 2016 was set: an under-23 version of the unforgettable 2014 World Cup semi-final that finished Brazil 1-7 Germany.
That defeat caused shockwaves throughout Brazil, the country with the greatest football pedigree in the world. The Olympic final on 20 August will offer a chance for redemption rather than revenge.
"I don't see it as being about revenge, for me it's an opportunity," says Brazilian defender Douglas Costa. "It will be an opportunity to turn around something the fans today talk about as a difficult defeat. Hopefully, we are going to reverse that score line," he adds, referring back to the World Cup semi-final defeat in 2014.
On paper, the Olympic final looks rather different. The teams that play the Olympic tournament mainly comprise players under the age of 23, with three over-age players permitted on each team.
Brazilian star performer Neymar, who plies his club football for Spanish giants Barcelona, is the only player on either squad to have played in the 2014 World Cup (though he missed the Germany game through injury).
Along with Neymar, who scored the fastest goal in Olympic history in the semi-final, netting after just 15 seconds, Brazil can boast a number of high-profile players. These include Gabriel Jesus, who recently signed for top English club Manchester City, Gabriel Barbosa, the 19-year old striker who goes by the nickname “Gabigol”, and experienced Paris St-Germain defender Marquinhos.
By contrast, the German squad is devoid of the country’s leading stars, and there are certainly none of the players who helped secure victory in the 2014 World Cup. However, there is no shortage of young talent with elite-level experience, including the likes of Serge Gnabry, a fleet-footed winger who plays for London giants Arsenal.
Home advantage will provide Brazil a major boost – and they can expect vociferous support from the vast majority of the capacity crowd that will fill Rio’s iconic Maracana stadium. “The fans help us," said Gabriel Jesus after supporters roared them to victory over Honduras. “It makes a difference. I am sure they will help us even more in the final.”
Underdogs Sweden aiming for one more upset
The following day, the women’s final will be an all-European affair, as Sweden attempt to pull off a shock against the Germans. They will fancy their chances having already dispensed with reigning champions USA, and home favourites Brazil, who were led by Marta, arguably the greatest female player of all time.
Sweden defeated the hosts 4-3 in a penalty shootout following a goalless draw, showing that they are not fazed by pressure or by reputations. Mentored by former USA head coach Pia Sundhag, who led the Americans to gold at the previous two editions of the Games, Sweden’s football may lack the sparkle and flair of some of their rivals, but they are a well-oiled collective, who thrive on the absence of star names. They are adept at soaking up the pressure, and making the most of their counter-attacking opportunities.
At the Maracana on 21 August they will come up against a German team who eased past Canada in the semi-final, 2-0, thanks to goals from Melanie Behringer and Sara Däbritz. The Germans have no less than three Olympic bronze medals (from 2000, 2004 and 2008), but this will be their first ever final. They will be hoping to give coach Silvia Neid a golden send-off as she takes charge for the last time after 11 years in charge.