As a 20-year old, Neymar played a crucial role in taking Brazil to the final of men’s football in 2012 London Olympic Games. However, until Saturday, as Brazil’s captain at Rio, Neymar had proved ineffective. He was jeered by home fans in the hosts’ first two league games that ended as goalless draws against South Africa and Iraq at Brasilia. However, the Barcelona star reversed the trend on August 13 at Sao Paulo by his opening goal against Colombia that paved the way for Brazil’s entry to the semifinals. The hosts now take on Honduras at Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday for a place in their second consecutive Olympic final. In other quarterfinals games, Germany routed Portugal 4-0 at Brasilia; Nigeria defeated Denmark 2-0 at Salvador and Honduras edged out Korea 1-0 at Belo Horizonte. Besides Brazil meeting Honduras at Rio de Janeiro, Germany will play against Nigeria in the other semifinal at Sao Paulo.
After they secured their quarterfinal berth with a 4-0 win over Denmark, Brazil defeated Colombia 2-0 in their next game at Sao Paulo. After a dangerous period in the 8th minute, when Brazil nearly conceded a goal to Colombia with some casual defending, the delighted home fans were treated to a masterful 25-yard curling free-kick from Neymar that sailed into the goal and Colombian goalkeeper Cristian Bonilla could do nothing about it. Soon after halftime, Brazil almost doubled their lead when Rodrigo Caio’s well-directed header was saved by Bonilla on the goal line. Nevertheless, Brazil made the score 2-0 in the 83rd minute from another long distance shot by Luan that found the net from 20 yards out. Brazil will play against Honduras for a place in the final at the iconic Maracana stadium at Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday.
On their part, Honduras progressed to the semifinal with a 1-0 victory over London Olympic bronze medalists Korea at Belo Horizonte. This is Honduras’ best ever finish at the Olympics. The Honduras-Korea match was going nowhere until Alberth Elis pulled away in the 59th minute and found the net to put Honduras 1-0 ahead. Koreans played dominating early in the match but they were denied by some fine saves by Honduran goalkeeper Luis Lopez. The South-East Asian nation did their best to find the elusive equalizer but Honduras defended quite well and entered the semifinals.
At Salvador, Nigerian Super-Eagles also made it to the semifinal with a 2-0 victory over Denmark. Both Nigeria and Denmark had lost in their last Group games and needed to prove a point, when they clashed with each other. Nigeria’s Imoh Ezekiel almost engineered a lead for his team in the opening minutes, when his shot rebounded off a defender and fell in Sadiq Umar’s path and though Umar had only the goalkeeper to beat, he couldn’t find the target. Ezekiel continued with his burst of energy and before the halftime, he ran furiously with the ball on left flank to send a square cross to which Obi Mikel connected successfully. After halftime, Nigeria continued their attacking game without any let-up in Ezekiel’s brilliance. At one time, the mercurial Nigerian barged yet again from left and after dodging several Danes, struck a powerful left-footer. But he got unlucky as his great effort sailed over the crossbar. Regardless, Nigeria shot to the 2-0 lead, when Mikel curled a corner into the penalty area and Aminu Umar rose his full height to direct the header into the goal.
For a place in the final, Nigeria will travel to Sao Paulo on Wednesday and beat the formidable German side, who thrashed Portugal 4-0 in another quarterfinal. The Germany-Portugal match had remained scoreless until seconds before the halftime, when Serge Gnabry took Germany 1-0 ahead. In the 57th minute, Germany doubled their lead, when Matthias Ginter headed a corner by Julian Brandt. Germany scored twice more in the last 15 minutes with Davie Selke and Philipp Max getting a goal each to see that their country reached the semifinal with an overwhelming victory.
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