A tense finale to the Rio 2016 gold medal match saw Brazil fend off Germany on penalties to win the competition to become Olympic football champions for the first time.
The first half began as one would expect from an Olympic final. Cagey, uncertain and rather conservative football was the order of the day for the first ten minutes. After a nervous opening from both sides, the first chance came courtesy of German playmaker Julian Brandt, who rattled the bar with a deft curling effort.
Beyond that, however, Brazil began to dominate possession. Gabriel Barbosa, Gabriel Jesus and Luan were keeping the ball well and troubling the Bender twins in the German midfield. For a while, though, it was possession and nothing more. Chance creation was fleeting and insubstantial. That was, until, just before the half-hour mark. The poster boy of the Olympic Games and Brazilian football’s darling, their captain and talisman Neymar, stepped up to take a free kick just to the left of the area about 25 yards from goal. The ball curled and dipped into the back of the net via the underside of the bar, taking the roof off an ecstatic Maracanã.
The German response was a fierce bombardment. Characteristically strong running from the likes of Brandt and Serge Gnabry tested the Brazilian defence as the game sparked into life. Erratic tackling and frenetic exchanges took hold, with the culmination of German pressure coming with successive set-pieces testing Wéverton and the frame of his goal in equal measure.
The young Brazilian side managed to do what their elders couldn’t in 2014 and weather the storm until half time, going into the break with their 1-0 lead intact.
The second half was rather tame to begin with. Germany tried to build from the back while Brazil attempted to keep their shape and composure. But just before the hour mark, the visitors’ moment came – the energetic Jeremy Toljan pulled the ball back for his captain, Max Meyer, to sweep home from inside the box. With the Maracanã promptly silenced, Brazil were desperate to rally.
For the final half an hour, Brazil’s attackers bristled with energy in front of midfielder Renato Augusto, who had begun to run the show. Late in the day there were plenty of chances for the hosts; Felipe Anderson was put through by Neymar, only for Lukas Klostermann to poke the ball away in the nick of time. However, central defenders Niklas Süle and Matthias Ginter, who had struggled in their opening fixtures, chose the perfect time to exhibit by far their best performances of these Olympic Games. Before either side knew it, extra time had beckoned.
Extra time brought more of the same from the hosts – after repelling attack after attack so throughout the 90 minutes, the German defenders appeared to tire. Fortunately for them, goalkeeper Timo Horn answered the call of duty on multiple occasions, most notably parrying away smartly when Felipe Anderson was put through on goal in the 108th minute. Brazil continued to dominate as Germany endeavoured to keep their focus, but still there was no way through for the hosts as the spectre of a penalty shootout loomed ominously over everyone inside the Maracanã.
And after 120 minutes, and eight scored penalties, substitute Nils Petersen stepped up. Wéverton guessed correctly, palmed the penalty aside and gave Brazil the chance to win the gold medal they have always craved. Everything had led to this moment; not just the last two weeks but every day since the infamous 7-1 in 2014, and it all rested on the shoulders of Neymar. The Barcelona star duly dispatched his spot-kick and sent his country into delirium. Dejection for the Germans, a first ever Olympic football title for the hosts.