Wednesday 21 February 2018

Brazil aiming to right wrongs of Germany rout

Neymar's goal against Honduras was the fastest in Olympic history Photo: AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo
Neymar's goal against Honduras was the fastest in Olympic history Photo: AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo

Jonathan Liew

Sete a um foi pouco. It is an expression that Brazilians have begun using, often in jest, when something goes calamitously wrong. When the latest government scandal breaks. When your train gets cancelled. When the supermarket has sold out of your favourite brand of guarana.

Sete a um foi pouco. "Seven-one was nothing."

Try to remember where you were on July 8, 2014. Try to summon up the profound, numbing sense of collective shock you felt as the cherished Selecao were ripped to tiny pieces at the Estadio Mineirao, in their own back yard, in their own World Cup. Football, in part at least, is how Brazil has built its identity, how it sees itself, how it wants the world to see it.

Now try to imagine what sort of effect it has when that identity is destroyed within half an hour.

These are the stakes at play when Brazil take on Germany again this evening in the Olympic final. Brazil have never won gold in men's football, and of all the medals on offer at their home Games, this is the one they want above all others. Victory will not heal the wounds of 2014 on its own, but it would restore the two most important emotions that any country can possess: pride and happiness.

"For me it's an opportunity," said left-back Douglas Santos. "We hope that, God willing, we are going to reverse that scoreline in this match."

The 7-1 defeat that would become known as 'the Mineirazo' touched Brazilian culture and psychology in a way it is hard to conceive in any other country. You hardly go a day without reading some reference to it in the media. There was no real precedent, no real frame of reference; only a strong and crushing feeling that life might never be good again.

And so the packed houses that have followed Brazil throughout this tournament, and will fill the Maracana again tonight, have done so more as an act of faith than anything else. This is not about Dante or David Luiz.

It is not even about Neymar, the striker whose back injury ruled him out of that semi-final amid a weepy display of collective hysteria that, in hindsight, portended what was to follow. It is about people and their pride, about resurrecting the idea that a team can give a nation joy.

None of the players on the pitch in 2014 will be present again here: these are two new teams, composed largely of under-23s with a maximum of three overage players per squad. Indeed, the only link between that game and this is the Borussia Dortmund defender Matthias Ginter, an unused substitute in 2014 and now the linchpin of Germany's young defence here. "It was once in a lifetime," he said after the 2-0 semi-final win against Nigeria.

"Seven-one was once in a career. We will not beat Brazil 7-1 again."

It is a testament to Germany's astonishing depth of young talent that even a team shorn of all their biggest stars - and with eligible players like Manchester City's Leroy Sane missing - can still reach the final with barely a hiccup. They swatted aside a highly-rated Portugal side 4-0 in the quarter-finals before beating Nigeria in the semi-final. And like the senior side, they are a team stuffed with brilliant attacking midfielders: Julian Brandt, Max Meyer, Arsenal's Serge Gnabry. They play pretty much exactly like you would expect a modern German team to play: with pace, dynamism and vast technical ability.

Brazil, for their part, have eased their way into the tournament after a pair of goalless draws against South Africa and Iraq raised the spectre of a humiliating early exit. Their semi-final against Honduras was effectively over within 15 seconds: the time it took Neymar (left) to score the fastest goal in Olympic history. Brazil ended up winning that game 6-0, with Neymar putting in a performance that moved coach Rogerio Micale to describe him as "a monster".

Not that this is the Neymar show. Gabigol, the Santos forward widely tipped as the 'next Neymar', has chipped in with a couple of goals. Gabriel Jesus has already shown why Manchester City paid pounds £27m (€31m)for him. The Gremio forward Luan was introduced for the quarter-final against Colombia and has impressed ever since. Above all, though, this is a triumph of defence: Brazil have not conceded a goal all tournament, a welcome relief for a country which shipped four in the space of six minutes in that infamous semi-final.

"Nobody here played in that semi-final," insisted goalkeeper Weverton. "What happened in the past is in the past. Nothing is going to change that, even if we win by seven goals. We have a chance to create our own history, to do something different."

Which is all very well, but as Brazil began to rack up the goals against Honduras, a chant started going around the Maracana. "O Alemanha pode esperar, a sua hora vai chegar!" it went. "Just you wait, Germany: your time will come." Two years after they were handed their most crushing humiliation in the history of professional sport, Brazil want revenge.

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