Host country Brazil saturday at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro recorded a first by winning the men’s football gold medal. The Brazilians overcame Germany 5-4 on penalties, after normal time an extra time ended in a 1-1 draw. The win ensured Brazil – five-time World Cup winners – won the only football title that has eluded the world’s most successful football nation.
Superstar captain, Neymar wrote his name into football folklore by scoring a sensational free-kick to put Brazil ahead in the first half before netting the decisive penalty. Along with his teammates, he has succeeded where some of the biggest names in Brazilian football have failed.
The win went a long way in wiping out the pain of the 7-1 thrashing Germany inflicted on Brazil at the semi-final stage of the 2014 World Cup, also hosted by Brazil. Neymar missed that match due to injury but yesterday was redemption not only for him, but for his country.
“This is one of the best things that has happened in my life,” said Neymar, who was heavily criticised for his underwhelming start to the Olympics. “Now they’ll (the critics) have to swallow what they said.”
In front of the biggest crowd of Rio’s Games, including nine-time Jamaican gold medallist Usain Bolt, Neymar’s brilliant free-kick handed Brazil a first-half lead. In honour of the retiring sprinting great, Neymar even adopted the “lightning bolt” celebration, while chants of “ole, ole, ole, Neymar” rang around Rio’s most iconic arena.
However, Germany captain Max Meyer enjoyed a special celebration of his own as he taunted the raucous 78 000 crowd at the Maracana by kissing the No 7 on his shirt when he swept home Jeremy Toljan’s cross just before the hour mark.
The first eight penalties in the shootout were all successful before Brazil goalkeeper Weverton stopped Nils Petersen’s effort to set the stage for Neymar. And he didn’t disappoint as, with the weight of a nation on his shoulders, he rifled the ball into the top corner.
In stark contrast to the empty seats on show across the Games, even for some of Bolt’s marquee races, there wasn’t a seat to be had at the Maracana – where Germany won the World Cup against Lionel Messi’s Argentina two years ago. In front of 78,000, Brazil got a measure of revenge as they finally won the Olympic title after losing in the finals in 1984, 1988 and 2012.
Neymar missed the darkest day in Brazil’s football history due to two broken bones in his back suffered during a bruising quarterfinal win over Colombia.
Yet, the good fortune that escaped Brazil on home soil two years ago was certainly with them in the first-half as Germany were desperately unlucky to go in behind at the break.
Germany hit the woodwork three times in the first half – through Julian Brandt’s 25-yard effort, a deflection off a Brazilian defender and Sven Bender’s header – before they scored a deserved equaliser shortly after the restart.
Neither side could find a winner before the drama of the penalty shootout gave Brazil the gold
Brazilian goalkeeper Weverton, who saved the German’s fifth penalty to hand Neymar the chance to live up to his billing as the host’s poster boy for the Games said: “The gold is ours, but it belongs to God. God loves Neymar like he loves all this team.”