Brazil beats Germany on penalties
Men's final finished 1-1 after extra time
Neymar scored decisive spot kick
In the center circle, his teammates knelt in prayer, pleading for divine intervention.
All around him, 70,000 Brazilians inside the vast Maracana Stadium chanted his name, expecting – no, demanding – their nation’s biggest soccer star deliver a historic success at Rio 2016.
Neymar paused, gathering his thoughts as he stuttered towards the ball, almost grinding to a halt before stroking his penalty kick high to the left of Germany’s goalkeeper Timo Horn.
As the net rippled, Brazil celebrated. It had won Olympic soccer gold for the first time in its history.
A night of deafening noise and frantic play inside Rio’s iconic arena ended in triumph for the host nation, as a penalty shootout separated the sides after Saturday’s final finished 1-1 following extra time.
For Brazil, this was a cathartic success. This was a landmark victory over a country that had inflicted an humiliating 7-1 defeat on it two years ago, in the semifinal of its own World Cup.
Not this time.
If Brazilians were anxious ahead of this match, those anxieties were expressed with raucous support.
Before the national anthems had been sung, the stadium reverberated to the sound of one man’s name. “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Ola, Neymar, Neymar” greeted the players as they took to the pitch.
Brazilians can even be forgiven for singing through the German anthem – an expression of excessive exuberance rather than hostility, perhaps.
And they didn’t have to wait long for Neymar to deliver his first telling contribution.
In the 26th minute, the captain and No. 10 sent a wonderful, looping free-kick beyond the despairing Horn to ignite a crowd who had arrived ready to combust.
Brazil was buoyant, but its newfound confidence was fragile. Germany hit the crossbar three times in the first half, with Sven Bender seeing his header come agonizingly close after 35 minutes.
The previous night, in the same venue, Germany’s women’s team had won gold for the first time, beating Sweden in the final.
The German men grew into their contest and grabbed a deserved equalizer just before the hour mark, as captain Max Meyer finished off a flowing move with a low shot from just inside the box.
Both teams pressed and probed as the contested drifted into extra time, but the exertions of that energy-sapping opening hour had taken their toll after another sticky night in Rio.
After eight flawless kicks, Nils Petersen had the misfortune of seeing his shot saved by Weverton.
Up stepped Neymar, and the rest is now Brazilian soccer history.
For the 24-year-old it served as an answer to critics who lamented his and Brazil’s form in the opening matches of this competition, when it drew against both South Africa and Iraq.
“This is one of the best things that have happened in my life,” the Barcelona forward said. “That’s it.”
Weverton was cast alongside Neymar in the role of hero with his penalty save, but the goalkeeper was quick to praise the contribution of a higher power.
“God has blessed me,” he said. “The gold is ours, but it belongs to God.
“I told Neymar that God had given him a second chance. God loves Neymar like he loves all this team.”