Brazil has gotten redemption.
I’m not just referring to the soccer team that headed into Saturday’s Olympic final looking for gold against arch-rival Germany, but the nation as a whole.
With the game tied 1-1 at the end of two overtime periods, Brazil headed to penalties in front of a sold out Maracaná Stadium.
One strike of the ball away from gold, Neymar slowly stepped towards the penalty spot and calmly placed the ball in the center. The Brazilian prodigy took five small steps away from the ball and referee Alireza Faghani blew the whistle and Neymar slowly jogged towards the ball.
After a small stutter step, he waited for the goalkeeper to leave his feet and struck the ball into the upper right corner of the net.
Nearly 80,000 people on their feet and Neymar had added another notch to his legacy — Olympic gold; but most importantly, he had etched himself in the hearts of every Brazilian watching.
It took a mere split second for a victorious grunt to turn into tears as he crumpled to the ground embracing his teammates. It was over; that haunting pain in the hearts of Brazilians after a humiliating 7-1 loss to eventual champion Germany two years ago, was now replaced with sheer joy.
A nation that cried in front of millions of people watching around the world in soccer’s biggest stage; embarrassed by the worst loss in its history, now smiled and celebrated a victory that meant more than words could muster.
One particular piece of hardware had eluded Brazil and kept it from winning the trifecta of soccer glory: a World Cup title, a Continental title, and now finally Olympic gold.
HOW THEY GOT THERE
The game got off to a high-paced start, with Brazil keeping possession of the ball, while Germany threatened to score with the clearer chances. Neymar put Brazil on top in the 26th minute with a curved free kick just outside of the penalty area that swerved past the outstretched arms of Germany keeper Timo Horn.
Entering the second half up a goal, Brazil looked unsure of whether to sit back and defend their lead or throw numbers forward looking for a second goal. Germany scored in the 59th minute after a sharp ground cross from outside back Jeremy Toljan that ended up in captain Max Meyer’s feet, slotting it past the keeper.
Brazil’s effort showed after the tying goal, making every tackle possible and getting the home crowd into it, basking in their cheers and chants. Defensive midfielder Renato Augusto was the engine behind it all, constantly raising his arms after every successful tackle, urging the crowd for support.
Their offensive efforts were not enough as chances from Gabriel Jesus, Luan and Neymar fell short of threatening Horn’s goal by the end of regulation.
The overtime periods saw more of the same as Germany seemed content to sit back and play the counter game to catch Brazil off guard, but ended up having to survive the onslaught of runs the Brazilians had left in their arsenal.
Penalties came and Renato Augusto, Marquinhos, Rafinha and Luan all scored confidently, with their opponents following suit. With the score leveled 4-4; goalkeeper Weverton saved the most important penalty of his young career, parrying a right-footed strike to the right corner off Germany forward Nils Petersen.
That set the spot for Neymar, who despite immense pressure, finished the job to give Brazil its first Olympic gold in soccer history.
“Yesterday we were criticized,” said Neymar, referring to their poor start to the Olympic tournament. “We have replied with good football.”
“We had players who were extremely dedicated, professional and with great technical skill,” said Brazil coach Rogerio Micale to Reuters. “I’ll leave here with the sensation of having done my duty.”