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Tears of Joy for Brazil’s Golden Boy!
Like Usain Bolt on a running track, whom else was it ever going to be apart from Neymar who would seal the fate of Brazil in the Men’s Olympic Football Final in the Maracanã? The Golden Boy of Brazilian football proved his weight in, erm, gold as the men’s football medals were handed out on the penultimate day of the 2016 Rio Olympics. If there were any medal the partisan home crowd wanted to win in this Olympics, it was this football event. The hosts definitely do not have the most, with Team USA leading the medal chart with well over one hundred collected and Team GB in second with over sixty going into the final day, but they would not swap football glory for all those cycling and swimming successes. Nigeria picked up the bronze in football earlier in the day as Sadiq Umar bagged a hat-trick in their 3-2 victory over Honduras.
Neym on the Medals!
The final was set up as a grudge match, as hosts Brazil met Germany, in a repeat of the 2014 World Cup semi-final in the same country – which the Germans infamously won 7-1 on their way to the prestigious trophy. Neymar was absent for that final two years ago, having suffered a tournament-ending injury in the quarter-finals against Colombia, but the home side had their star man available this time. Neymar could only watch on with tears of pain in his eyes and a backache as his side suffered their last-four humiliation without him. The Barcelona superstar was out to rectify that recent World Cup defeat on their home turf and the previous Olympic final losses his nation has experienced, including in London 2012, where a Brazil side featuring Neymar, Oscar and Hulk lost to Mexico at Wembley. Four years on and the likes of Hulk and Oscar were not in the Brazilian Under-23 squad with three over-age players, but captain Neymar was joined by the next young generation of starlets, including Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Barbosa. Brazil also had to settle with being silver surfers in 1984 and 1988, while were third best with bronze medals in 1996 and 2008.
Gabriel Jesus has already been snapped up by Manchester City this summer for £27 million, but will stay at current club Palmeiras until December, with Pep Guardiola hoping Jesus will be able to get onto the end of crosses in the City box and provide his own cross for Sergio Aguero to nail into the back of the net. The Sky Blues look to have signed another promising star, not like they need him, as they beat Stoke 4-1 away from home in the Premier League today to go top of the table on goals scored. The nineteen-year-old is also popular with teammate Neymar, as the ‘100% Jesus’ bandana proves.
Teammate Gabriel Barbosa has been linked with Leicester, Manchester United, and Atletico Madrid this summer, as it is rumored Santos could sell the right-wing attacker because of financial difficulties at the club. All these Brazil Under-23 stars get branded with the tag of ‘the next Neymar’, especially when on the brink of a high-profile move to Europe, but the pressure of being ‘the next Golden Boy’ can sometimes slow down their progress. Midfielder Thiago Maia has been linked with a move to Chelsea, although the West London do seem to already have enough defensive midfielders, with twenty-nine-year-old Spaniard Cesc Fabregas even struggling to make the starting line-up.
The eighteen-man squad mainly consisted of players earning their trade in the Brazil top flight, apart from Neymar and Rafinha of Barcelona, defender Marquinhos of Paris St-Germain, attacking midfielder Felipe Anderson of Serie A side Lazio and unsung hero Renato Augusto of Chinese club Beijing Guoan. Goalkeeper Weverton, Neymar, and Augusto were the three Celebrity Big Brothers of the squad, as the selected over twenty-three members. Rogerio Micale was the boss and tasked with being the redeemer of Brazilian football after the embarrassing Copa America exit two months ago.
Germany show Max Steel, but spot-kicks mean Brazil still top the bill!
Mo Farah was not the only one with a long run up tonight, as it was not quite 5,000km for the youthful Germans and Brazilians, but penalties were yet again the decider between coming first and the heartache of unlucky runners-up. The match ended 1-1 after extra-time, with Neymar opening the scoring from a free-kick in the first half of normal time. An early strike from the poster boy, but not as quick as the 6-0 semi-final victory over Honduras, in which he scored after only 14 seconds after the referee blew the kick-off whistle – five seconds faster than Usain Bolt’s gold medal winning time in the 200 meters final race. This tournament showed Neymar has a Need for Speed, but that six-nil semi thrashing of Honduras was nothing compared to Germany, who beat Fiji 10-0 in the group stages and ended top scorers. Schalke’s twenty-year-old midfielder Max Meyer equalized in the second half of normal time for Germany’s Under-23s, but the penalty shoot-out proved Golden GB Gymnast Max Whitlock is still the most successful ‘Max’ at these Games.
There was a time where Germany, at any age group or level, where almost unbeatable when it came to penalty shoot-outs – with England often on the receiving end. These days the Germans are no longer the masters from 12 yards, as they showed in the Euros against Italy. Defender Matthias Ginter was part of the Germany squad that lifted the World Cup in the same venue two years ago and was tasked with taking a penalty. Arsenal’s Serge Gnabry was the only player not to come from the Bundesliga. The Germans went first in the shootout, scoring the first four of their penalties, but when 27-year-old Freiburg striker Nils Peterson had his effort saved by Brazil stopper Weverton in the fifth kick, there was only one man left: Neymar. We are used to seeing Portugal and Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo leaving himself as the fifth taker to consume all the glory, but this time, there was the wait for Neymar to step up as the twenty-four-year-old leader showed his egotistic side. Once he smashed the ball past Germany’s Cologne (I heard he always smells good!) keeper Timo Horn, the victory horn was sounded for the hosts in Rio as the Barcelona man collapsed to the ground and squirted out tears of joy. Brazil collected their gold medals and Germany picked up silver in the Maracanã medal ceremony as the parties on the streets and Copacabana beach celebrated those demons of the 7-1 defeat exorcised by Olympic glory after so many near misses with talented squads.
Get to know your Golden Brazilians:
Gabriel Barbosa; not to be confused with recurring Pirates of the Caribbean character Captain Barbosa. He has also adopted the nickname Gabigol with two goals in Brazil’s group stage victory over Denmark.
Gabriel Jesus; not to be confused with the famous son born in Bethlehem at Christmas and kissed by Judas.
Zeca; weirdly, Demi Lovato’s mother made some controversial jokes last week in a video about this twenty-two-year-old Brazilian full-back.
Luan; the twenty-three-year-old Brazilian forward, not to be confused with Luan the twenty-three-year-old Brazilian defender.
Walace; not to be confused with the cheese loving partner to Gromit.