August 18 – From despair to jubilation. Neymar scored the fastest goal in Olympic football history after just 14 seconds to set up a 6-0 demolition of Honduras in the men’s semi-final of the Olympic tournament.
They will now progress to their spiritual home of the Maracana where they will face Germany on Saturday in the Olympic Gold medal play-off.
The last time the two countries met was in 2014 in the semi-finals of the World Cup in Belo Horizonte when the Germans dismantled and humiliated a Brazilian side 7-1. That win was the largest ever international loss for a Brazilian national team and could hardly have come at a worse time as Brazilian football was plunged into despair, self doubt and recrimination.
The Maracana and the Olympic final is a different occasion entirely, for a start it is an U23 tournament. But for Brazil it offers the opportunity of football redemption. It could also be a win that ultimately puts the shine on a sometimes faltering Olympics for Brazilians.
Neymar has been the face of the Rio Olympics for Brazilians and in the semi-final was the talisman that re-lit the fire of Brazilian football. At the centre of so much of Brazil’s almost constant movement he masterminded the destruction of Honduras who came out with the clear intention of kicking everything in range – most notably Neymar, multiple times.
From the opening minute when Neymar dispossessed Johnny Palacios to put the hosts ahead, the Brazilian team injected a 90-minute football transfusion into the veins of this footballing nation. To close off the performance it was Neymar, of course, who scored form the penalty spot.
In between Neymar’s goals Manchester City fans will have enjoyed Gabriel Jesus scoreing twice. Marquinhos and Luan both netted from close in to add the other goals.
The boos that the Brazilian team had faced from their fans in the early group stages when they played two goalless draws against South Africa and Iraq now seem a long way away. They are now realistically chasing their first Olympic Games men’s football gold medal after losing in the finals in 1984, 1988 and 2012.
With the Germans kicking off against Nigeria after the Brazil win was concluded it seemed almost inevitable that Germany would qualify.
After a similarly slow start to the tournament as Brazil – two draw against Mexico and South Korea – Germany have found their feet and the goal with a 10-1 thrashing of Fiji and 2-0 wins over Portugal in the quarter final and now Nigeria.
This will be Germany’s best ever finish at a Men’s Olympic football tournament.
More importantly it promises a rematch of Europe vs South America, German tactical awareness and technical efficiency against Brazil’s fluid movement and individual flair. The Maracana is set to host another epic.
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