Rio 2016: Neymar’s heroics create history and gives Brazil an Olympics moment to call its own


NEYMAR the Redeemer.

Things haven’t quite gone to plan at these Games for Brazil, in and out of the sporting arena. Rio 2016 has witnessed some of the greatest moments in Olympic history but, until now, none the host nation could truly call its own.

Trust the nation’s most talented son to stand up and deliver in the most stunning way imaginable.

Neymar fired Brazil to its first ever Olympic soccer gold on Saturday, netting the opener with astonishing 35-yard curling free kick, then finishing the job with the winning penalty in an enthralling shootout.

This wasn’t a one-man show for Brazil against a gallant German side.

But one man, and two moments, on an unforgettable night at the Maracana will live longest in the memory.

After a slow start to the tournament, the Barcelona star was back in public favour after scoring twice against Honduras to lead Brazil into the final.

Even so, he arrived for the final as the most under-pressure man in a country chasing the only football honour yet captured.

Neymar stood hand on heart and eyes to the sky as a sea of yellow at erupted into a chilling rendition of Hino Nacional Brasileiro before the match began.

Neymar in tears after scoring the winning penalty.
Neymar in tears after scoring the winning penalty.Source: AP

There has been some wonderful atmospheres during these Games but nothing close to this.

The roars were deafening and chants spine-tingling as 80,000 people rode the early highs and lows of their team and its star man.

Neymar was frustrated for room and kept in check by Germany’s over-age twins, Lars and Sven Bender, for most of the first half.

But when he stood alone over the ball in the 27th minute, there was a sense something special was coming.

The crowd behind him rose to its feet as he lined up the difficult chance. Time seemed to stand till as he stepped up, struck the ball and curled it in off the underside of the crossbar. Perfect.

The crowd erupted and into joyous chaos and Neymar celebrated wildly before unleashing his own version of Usain Bolt’s “lightning bolt”. It seemed part tribute to the great Jamaican — who only a night earlier had completed an historic triple-triple on the track — and part reminder to the Brazilian people; ‘You’ve got your own superstar’.

Neymar celebrates with goalkeeper Weverton.
Neymar celebrates with goalkeeper Weverton.Source: Getty Images

Just as Brazil’s Games, and recent footballing fortunes, haven’t always gone to script, there was a twist as Germany’s Max Meyer equalised to painful silence in the second half.

It made for plenty of Brazilian anxiety throughout a nervy extra-time period but the perfect ending was just around the corner.

Brazil’s decision to save their main man for the fifth and final penalty in the shootout proved a masterstroke, from both a sporting perspective and sense of theatre, as the opportunity to finish the job landed in the 24-year-old’s lap.

As the Maracana threatened to explode from anticipation and a collective nation held its breath, the man with the weight of a nation on his shoulders stepped up, slotted it straight down the middle and the tears soon flowed. Perfect.

The triumph gave Brazil’s men a first Olympic title and a sense of redemption after the horror 7-1 defeat to Germany at last year’s World Cup.

Brazil’s sixth gold medal of the Olympics won’t do wonders its medal tally standing. At 13th they sit only above Greece (2004), Mexico City (1968) and Canada (1976) on the list of worst performers as hosts.

But like Cathy Freeman provided for Australia at Sydney 2000 and Mo Farah did in London four years ago, Brazil has its own glorious moment, its own home Olympic hero, to savour forever.