Hosts Brazil will be aiming to banish the memories of Belo Horizonte and the 2014 World Cup when they take on Germany in the final of the Olympics men’s football tournament this weekend (9.30pm Saturday, BBC Red Button).
The Selecao were thrashed 7-1 by Joachim Low’s Germany side in the semi-final of the World Cup two years ago. It was a truly stunning result which sent shockwaves through Brazil and the rest of the planet. The country has still not recovered from such a seismic outcome. Their early exits from the two Copa America tournaments since then have piled even more misery on the country. Brazil lost to Paraguay in the quarter-finals in 2015 and exited at the group stage in the United States earlier this summer.
Winning gold at the Olympic Games, the only title the Brazilians are eligible for but have never won, would not fully make up for those disappointments. It would at least go some way towards appeasing the five-time World Cup winners’ supporters.
Brazil started the competition in nervous fashion, failing to break down underdogs South Africa and Iraq in their first two group games as the hosts were held to a pair of goalless draws. That piled on the pressure ahead of their third outing. But a 4-0 victory over Denmark ensured Rogerio Micale’s men made it through to the knockout rounds as Group A winners. That triumph gave Brazil a great deal of confidence, and they duly swatted aside Colombia 2-0 in the quarter-finals before thrashing Honduras 6-0 in the last four.
The Selecao therefore head into this gold medal match without having even conceded a goal so far. With a record like that, it is not difficult to understand why the bookmakers rank Neymar and co as 4/7 favourites this weekend.
Germany have also been impressive, though, despite the fact they only finished in second spot in Group C. Exciting 2-2 and 3-3 draws with Mexico and South Korea respectively marked Horst Hrubesch’s side down as potential entertainers. A 10-0 thrashing of Fiji in their final group game made sure of their place in the last eight in emphatic fashion. Portugal were impressively overcome 4-0 prior to Wednesday’s 2-0 semi-final victory over Nigeria. Germany will be quietly confident of causing an upset at the famous Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
Brazil boss Rogerio Micale (pictured) will probably choose to keep faith with the starting XI that made light work of the semi-final against Honduras. In that case the fluid front four of Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Barbosa, Neymar and Luan will continue as an attacking quartet high up the pitch. Renato Augusto and Walace are important figures behind them in central midfield, while Paris Saint-Germain defender Marquinhos will need to be at his best in the heart of the backline.
Germany have their own exciting front four of Max Meyer, Serge Gnabry, Julian Brandt and Davie Selke. Twin brothers Lars and Sven Bender sitting behind them in the engine room in Germany’s 4-2-3-1 formation. The 22-year-old Matthias Ginter, who plays his club football for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, is their most important player in defence. Substitute striker Nils Petersen could be one to watch off the bench: the Freiburg man has scored six goals in Brazil, although five did come against Fiji.
Our preview’s verdict is that it is worth backing Brazil to come out on top in Saturday’s final. The combination of the most talented team in the tournament along with home advantage is likely to be enough for them to win Olympic gold in the men’s football tournament for the first time in history. Neymar is understandably considered the heavy favourite for first goalscorer, but Gabriel Jesus is a better value option to score at anytime. We also expect goals from these two teams.