THERE was unending joy in the streets of Rio de Janeiro on Saturday night when Brazil captured the Olympic gold for the first time, beating Germany 5-4 after the two sides had battled to a pulsating 1-1 draw after 120 minutes at the famous Maracana Stadium.
Brazil captain Neymar, who later shed copious tears of joy, delivered the much-hunted silverware with the final kick as Germany’s Nils Petersen had his penalty saved by an imposing goalkeeper Weverton.
The host nation becomes the first country to win gold in men football since Spain in 1992.
Moments after the nail-biting night of football, hundreds of jubilant fans poured into the streets, sparking scenes of wild celebration across the city. Fireworks illuminated the skies above Rio as fans set off smoke flares and waved flags to mark the memorable triumph.
Inside the 78,000-filled Maracana stadium, too, were scenes of drama. Whilst the Brazilians cart-wheeled for joy, the German crashed onto the turf in anguish. Two years ago at the same venue, it was a different story as they licked Argentina 1-0 to win their fourth World Cup.
But the same turf gave them away on Saturday. No joy – only scenes of despair and dejection inflicted by a side they (a different German team though) white-washed 7-1 at the semi-final stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Neymar had missed that embarrassing loss as he was suffering from a fractured vertebra in his back. And, he has always been looking forward to the opportunity to pay the Germans back in their own coin. Importantly, none of the current players of Brazil’s Olympic team featured in that slaughter.
With the effort of Germany’s Julian Brandt crashing off the upright as early as the 10th minute, the Brazilians may have foreseen the danger, put their act together with some sweet passing game and subjecting their opponents to an amperage of pressure.
The goal that eventually came looked all-too predictable, especially when Neymar was upended close to the area. The Barca icon decided to take his own thing, as always, gracefully bending the damage to the far right of the goalie to register the first goal on the 20th minute mark. The stadium exploded and rose to greet the sublime act.
But the Germans responded with gusto in the second half and fetched the equaliser through an unmarked skipper Maximilian Meyer who finished off a picturesque move moments before the hour mark. The stadium temporarily slumped into petrified silence. Perhaps, the mood could have been worse for the hosts had Sven Bender’s header not hit the cross-bar.
It was all give-and-take affair until the referee signalled for the end of a pulsating 90 minutes, to open up another half-an-hour blistering exchanges in extra time. The two buoyant teams could still not be separated; only the shoot-out did.
Indeed, Brazil’s hunt for Olympic gold came the very hard way. They had lost in two successive finals in 1984 and 1988 before the London Olympics, four years ago. At a point, it all seemed like a curse. But Neymar thought all that was no curse, after all.
How time changes! A unified Germany is now the only World Cup champions never to have won the Olympic gold medal.
As the crowd chanted Neymar’s name, it was clear they were immensely thrilled with his leadership which has given Brazil the only gold that is sorely missing in their rich trophy cabinet.
This was the same player they demonised two years ago after the semi-final loss to Germany even though he did not feature, going as far as burning his shirt.
The scoreline may not be exactly what Brazilians would have wanted. But does it matter? For a good number of the home fans, it was still revenge served cold. It was a colossal redemption for Brazil football.
From: John Vigah, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil