The long wait for Brazil’s first soccer gold is finally over. On Saturday (August 20), they beat Germany – who had handed them a humiliating 7-1 loss in the World Cup semi-final just two years ago at the same ground – to clinch their first ever Olympic Gold Medal in soccer.
The seleção‘s captain, Neymar, gave a match-winning performance that was decided on penalties. He had opened the scoring with a wonderful free-kick and was also the one to take the decisive penalty. Breaking down into tears of joy after the fateful spot-kick in front of a rapturous home-crowd, he also announced later on his plans to step down as Brazil’s captain.
There was an unmistakable sense of occasion for Brazil’s first soccer gold. The Maracana, one of the most iconic soccer stadiums around the world, was sold out, and overwhelmingly so by the fans in yellow jerseys. CNN wrote that they chanted lung-deep the name of their soccer icon in Neymar, the latest in the long list of legendary ones that includes the likes of Pele, Ronaldo (O Fenomeno) and Ronaldinho, before even the national anthem was played. This was the fervent support of a soccer-crazy nation, desperate to taste some convincing success, after being fatally wounded by the the aforementioned crushing at the hands of Germany at their home soil in the game’s biggest stage.
The 2016 Rio Olympic Soccer Finale between Brazil and Germany started with the host nation taking the lead in the 26th minute through Neymar. The captain and no. 10 scored a looping free-kick from 25 meters to the post and beyond the hands of the German goal keeper Timo Horn. The jubilant crowd rose to its feet, and celebrated the gorgeous spot-kick. The ecstasy would be short-lived though, as Germany replied with resilience and rattled the cross-bar three times before the referee signaled the end of the first half.
The second half begun, and as the minutes passed on, Germany’s foothold into the match grew stronger. They got their just reward just before the hour mark, as the visiting captain Max Meyer slotted the ball into the back of the net from close range. One goal each, the game was back to square one: Brazil’s first soccer gold would not come easy.
The game wore the players out in the latter minutes of 90, and the scores remained level. There was still nothing separating the teams in the added extra time. So penalties it was.
The fact that Germany has a near-perfect record in the dreaded shootout, according to USA Today, could have been seen as an omen that the wait for Brazil’s first soccer gold at the Olympics would not end here. But the seleção faithful chose optimism, and backed their boys to revenge the team that had abducted their morale inside the same stadium only two years ago. And after eight perfect spot kicks, Brazil’s keeper Weverton stole the limelight by saving Nils Peterson’s penalty. However, the game’s biggest drama was saved for the 24 year old Neymar, who blasted the ball to the top-left to send ripples of impact to the net and of delirium to the crowd. The captain himself knelt to the ground, overwhelmed with happiness, his face covered in tears.
Two years ago in that semi-final he had to miss the game due to injury, and from a hospital had to see his side tumble down in front of the German players. Now the gold was his, Brazil’s first in Olympic history, and the whole nation was there to share his happiness.
Having lost Olympic finals three times – in 1984, 1988 and 2012 – Brazil have finally their hands on their first ever soccer gold medal, and also a little revenge on Germany, thanks in large to the match-winning display of Neymar.
[Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images]