Brazil ended their six-decade wait for Olympic gold in the most dramatic of fashions, with Neymar playing an influential role in the Rio 2016 hosts claiming victory at the iconic Maracana.
The final itself against Germany could not have been scripted better for A Seleção. Their captain Neymar scored a stunning free kick against the nation who had inflicted ‘the 7-1’ at the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ two years previously – a game Neymar missed through injury - before Max Meyer equalised to take the game to extra time and ultimately penalties.
After eight perfect spot kicks were converted by the hosts and the perennial shootout champions, goalkeeper Weverton – an eleventh hour, unexpected call-up to Brazil’s Olympic squad after an injury to first choice Fernando Prass – saved from tournament top scorer Nils Petersen. This handed Neymar the chance to score with the hosts’ fifth penalty and claim the only top prize in world football that had eluded the five-time World Cup winners. The No10 made no mistake, evoking a guttural roar from the Maracana and the nation, a mixture of relief and joy, expressions etched on the face of the tournament’s poster boy as he sank to his knees in celebration.
Rogerio Micale’s gold-winning squad saw Neymar, an overage player by less than 11 months, joined by experienced heads Weverton and Renato Augusto, who blended well with the exciting Gabriels, Barbosa and Jesus, as well as breakthrough forward Luan. Surprisingly for some, it was the hosts’ defence which also earned high praise, with that Max Meyer goal the only one conceded in the entire tournament by Weverton and the miserly rearguard of Zeca, Rodrigo Caio, Marquinhos and Douglas Santos.
In keeping with the hosts’ victory, it was a tournament of firsts for a number of other sides. By reaching the final, Germany attained their best ever finish, beating the bronze won in 1988 by Jurgen Klinsmann, Karl-Heinz Reidle and Co, while Nigeria completed their set of medals, adding bronze to Atlanta 1996 gold and Beijing 2008 silver. Surprise package Honduras claimed fourth, their own best Olympic finish, surpassing their historic quarter-final appearance at London 2012.
The matches were played at iconic stadiums around the football-loving country, a mini tour of reminiscence for Brazil 2014, with six venues used at the World Cup just over two years previously playing host to Rio 2016 matches. Over a million spectators flocked to the matches around the country, with the average crowd standing at over 30,000 per game.
The Maracana was one of those venues used at both Brazil 2014 and Rio 2016, and the fabled stadium saw just over 50,000 watch the semi-final between Brazil and Honduras, with over 60,000 attending the spectacular final between the hosts and Die Nationalmannschaft.
Surprise exits, attacking excitement
While Honduras reaching the final four represented something of a surprise, shocks of an equal footing took place during the group stages, as the victors from the previous three editions, Mexico and Argentina, both finished third in their respective pools and were eliminated earlier than they had anticipated. The fact that past medals were no yardstick with which to measure the class of 2016 was also evident with the exit of London 2012 bronze winners Korea Republic at the hands of the devastating counter-attacking style of Los Catrachos in the quarter-finals.
Speed in attack was a particular theme throughout the tournament, with the rapid Honduran triumvirate of Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto and Antony Lozano matched by fellow semi-finalists Nigeria, who could count on Oghenekaro Etebo, Imoh Ezekiel and Sadiq Umar among their number going forward.
Those two sides’ attacking prowess was bettered by finalists Germany who scored 22 goals en route to the Maracana, while the embarrassment of riches for the hosts, including Neymar, Luan, Gabigol and Gabriel Jesus, meant it was a tournament that was very easy on the eye. This was reflected in the number of goals scored, 104, an average of 3.25 per game, the highest since the tournament adopted its current format in 1980.
One goal in particular combined both the attacking nature of the tournament, and the speed at which it was conducted, to record-breaking effect. Neymar stole the ball from Honduran defender Johnny Palacios and bundled the ball past the onrushing goalkeeper Luis Lopez after just 15 seconds of the hosts’ semi-final against La H, making it the quickest goal in Olympic Football Tournament history.
The hosts’ No10 was the undoubted star of the tournament in eventually leading his side to victory, just as he was on home soil for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, and had hoped to be for the 2014 World Cup. Just like those two tournaments, Rio 2016 will be remembered for the telling contribution under overwhelming national pressure of Neymar, the golden boy of Brazil.
Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Denmark, Fiji, Germany, Honduras, Iraq, Japan, Korea Republic, Mexico, Nigeria, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden
1. Brazil (Gold)
2. Germany (Silver)
3. Nigeria (Bronze)
Fair Play Award: Denmark
Arena Amazonia (Manaus), Arena Corinthians (Sao Paulo), Arena Fonte Nova (Salvador), Estadio Mineirao (Belo Horizonte), Estadio Nacional (Brasilia), Maracana, Olympic Stadium (both Rio de Janeiro)
Total number of goals: 104 (average per game: 3.25)
6: Nils Petersen (GER)
6: Serge Gnabry (GER)
4: Max Meyer (GER)
Total number of spectators: 1,009,162
Average crowd: 31,536