Come Saturday and the iconic Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro is certain to be packed to the brim. In a football crazy Brazil, no other sport holds as much magnetic appeal as cricket does in India. The fans will want to see host nation Brazil earn their first Olympic gold medal in men’s football after missing it in London 4 years ago. Though Brazil’s opponents are the formidable German side, the forward line led by Neymar is peaking into the top form after the hiccups at the start of the men’s tournament. As for Germany, they have a chance to make it a football double as German women have also entered the final and meet Sweden in the gold medal match on Friday. On Wednesday, Brazil began with a record 15th second goal by Neymar that set the tone for the match. After an injury scare, Neymar scored another goal after turning a provider for two more. The 6-0 win was men’s tournament’s most comprehensive result, not counting the thrashing of a helpless Fiji in the league phase. Germany made it to the final at the expense of Nigeria at Sao Paulo emulating their women, who defeated Canada with an identical 2-0 score-line a day earlier.
After his sleepy presence in Brazil’s first two league-phase games, Neymar has returned to his roots. After his masterful quarterfinal goal against Colombia, the FC Barcelona forward went one step better in the semifinal with Honduras. 15 seconds from kick-off, Neymar scored Olympic Football History’s quickest-ever goal with a breakthrough strike. The Brazilian captain had benefitted from an error by Honduran defender Johnny Palacios in front of the goal and though goalkeeper Luis Lopez moved up to challenge, Neymar used his knee to touch it. The ball touched the goalkeeper and came back to Neymar, who only had an empty net in front of him. For all this effort, Neymar took a blow to his stomach and collapsed on his celebratory run. Thousands of Brazilian supporters watched their hero lying on the ground and holding his stomach. He was stretchered off for medical help while the fans endured emotional upheavals. Just when it looked like Brazil would play without Neymar, the Barcelona forward came jogging back on the pitch to a thunderous ovation.
After that first minute lead, Brazil dominated play with Luan and Gabriel Jesus and in the 26th minute, Jesus doubled Brazil’s lead. It was a through ball from Luan and Jesus latched on to it. After beating the off-side trap, the young striker coolly slotted the ball under Lopez. Nine minutes later, Jesus scored another goal as he beat Honduras defense line with his speed. Six minutes after the break, Brazil made it 4-0, when a corner kick landed in front of an unmarked Marquinhos. He had enough time to adjust himself before shooting in. The lead for Brazil went further up to 5-0 in the 79th minute, when substitute Felipe Anderson, set up Luan for an easy tap in. Honduras’ woes reached their zenith in stoppage time with Palacios’ wrongful tackle on Luan resulting in a penalty. Neymar stepped up and scored his second goal of the day as Brazil sailed into final with a 6-0 win.
In the other semi-final at Sao Paulo, Germany defeated Nigeria 2-0. The Germans took an early 9th minute lead, when Maximilian Meyer’s cross beat Nigerian goalkeeper Emmanuel Daniel and Lukas Klostermann tapped in. However, Nigeria came close to equalizing four minutes later when an error from German goalkeeper Timo Horn gave a great chance to Nigeria’s Sadiq Umar. But Horn amended for his lapse by making a great save. Nigeria had another chance in the 31st minute, when their captain John Obi Mikel side-stepped two German defenders in the box only to see his shot being blocked by Matthais Ginter. After halftime, both teams played attacking football but there was no change in the score-line. However, Germany made it 2-0 one minute from time, when Davie Selke’s pass found Nils Petersen at the far post and Petersen duly deflected on the back of the net.
As Brazilians wait for Saturday’s gold medal game, the awful memories of their 7-1 drubbing by Germany in the semifinal of FIFA World Cup, two year ago cannot be easily brushed aside. But they have chance to pay back and earn their first Olympic gold in football. Earlier on the same day at Belo Horizonte, Nigeria and Honduras will play for the bronze.