Neymar was the toast of Brazilian football Saturday after converting the winning penalty in a shoot-out to give Brazil a first Olympic football gold as they beat Germany in the men’s final at a raucous Maracana Stadium.
After a 1-1 draw over regulation and extra time, the Barcelona star stayed calm to stroke home the decisive kick, after Weverton saved from Nils Petersen in the only failure from the spot.
Neymar himself had opened the scoring with a 26th minute free kick, after being fouled, when he curled a magnificent shot over the wall and beyond despairing keeper Timo Horn.
After the break, Max Meyer levelled for Germany just before the hour, but Neymer and Weverton ensured the Brazil fans could party long into the Rio de Janeiro night.
“This is one of the best things that has happened in my life,” Neymar said. “The only thing on my mind was I had to do this. I have fulfilled my dream.”
Mayer said he felt Germany “were unlucky,” adding that “in penalties anything can happen and this time we lost.”
In addition to ending the 64-year wait for Olympic gold since they first entered football at the 1952 Games, the Brazilians also gained a modicum of revenge for the 7-1 humiliation suffered at the hands of the Germans in the 2014 home World Cup semi-final.
That loss, with the injured Neymar, threw Brazilian football into a slump that was worsened by a dismal group stage exit from the Copa America earlier this year. Neymar was rested from that tournament with the goal of Olympic gold in mind and, on the biggest stage, he delivered.
“I told Neymar that God had given him a second chance,” Weverton said of his team-mate, who had been criticized earlier in the tournament. “God loves Neymar like he loves all this team.”
A foul by Matthias Ginter – an unnecessary and careless late tackle – was Neymar’s cue on Saturday. For a short moment, the yellow-clad hordes in the Maracana stands held their breath until, with the ball nestling in the net, they exploded in hugging and screaming with joy.
The goal had been coming on the balance of play as Brazil, after Julian Brandt curved a superb shot onto the bar, had been the better team even without creating clear chances.
But going in front caused the nerves which had settled to rise again. First, Marquinhos turned a free kick off his own bar and Weverton was lucky his weak parry on Brandt’s shot from the resulting corner was not punished.
Sven Bender then glanced a header onto the bar as half-time arrived with Germany, somehow, trailing.
“Obviously you’re not happy when you hit the bar,” Germany coach Horst Hrubesch said. “We knew at half-time we’d get more chances and we scored in the second half.”
The goal came in the 59th minute, as Brandt fed the overlapping full-back Jeremy Toljan on the right and his cross was met by Meyer. A low shot flew across Weverton and into the far corner to silence from all but a handful of Germany fans.
Gabriel Jesus sidefooted past the post and Neymar shot just wide as Brazil, roared on by their fanatical followers, tried to regain their lead.
Germany were unable to retain possession in midfield, but Meyer shot wide from 18 yards at the end of a rare breakaway before the game went to extra time.
Luan lost a good chance through hesitating at the crucial moment and Brandt guided a volley over at full-stretch as, with legs tiring, play raged from end to end.
Horn saved from Felipe Anderson on the only chance in the second of the added periods and the tie was settled on penalties.
Ginter, Serge Gnabry, Brandt and Niklas Suele all converted for Germany before Petersen’s fatal miss. Renato Augusto, Marquinhos, Rafael Alcantara and Luan stayed cool for Brazil to set up Neymar for glory.
Earlier Saturday, Nigeria had claimed the bronze medal by holding off Honduras 3-2 in Mineirao. Umar Sadiq’s double sandwiched Aminu Umar’s goal to put the 1996 winners three up before late headers from Anthony Lozano and Marcelo Pereira restored some pride for Honduras.