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Brazil Beats Germany On Penalty Kicks, Winning First Olympic Gold Medal

Neymar of Brazil is surrounded by teammates as he celebrates scoring the first goal in the men's soccer final against Germany at Rio's Maracana Stadium. Neymar made the crucial penalty kick that won the game for Brazil.
Buda Mendes
Getty Images
Neymar of Brazil is surrounded by teammates as he celebrates scoring the first goal in the men's soccer final against Germany at Rio's Maracana Stadium. Neymar made the crucial penalty kick that won the game for Brazil.

It won't take the sting of a World Cup shellacking away, but it'll help: Brazil beat Germany in Olympic soccer Saturday, in a win that earns the men's team their first gold medal.

Brazilian star Neymar opened the scoring midway through the first half, bending a beautiful free kick over the wall of defenders and toward the net – where it clipped the underside of the crossbar and eluded German goalie Timo Horn.

Asked after the game to describe his feelings, Neymar said, "I can't begin to describe them. I have fulfilled my dream and to have fulfilled it in my home country makes me very proud."

By the start of the second half, Germany had taken four shots on goal to Brazil's one. But the Brazilian fans were ecstatic with the way things were going, as their beloved national team was handling Germany — a team that has bedeviled them in recent years.

Germany's Maximilian Meyer tied the score around the 60-minute mark, finishing off a sequence of crisp passes — from the center forward to the right side, then zipping back to the middle — with a clean shot that eluded Brazil's goalkeeper, Weverton.

From there, the match grew increasingly tense as both teams sought an edge that would give them the victory outright.

But that edge never materialized for either side, and despite a couple of shots by Brazil in added time at the end of regulation, the score remained 1-1 — and stayed that way through two extra-time periods.

The large and boisterous crowd — Maracana Stadium was packed for this game — grew increasingly frantic as the game wore on, and the host fans lost any patience they ever might have had for Germany's ponderous pace. A roar of deafening whistles rained down on the field in the second extra period, as the Germans passed the ball around on their half of the field.

After two even halves and two scoreless extra periods, the game went to penalty kicks — and neither side seemed willing to blink.

Player after player, each shot was greeted with either a shout or a moan from thousands of voices. That scene played out for four goals each — and then when Nils Petersen finally missed on Germany's fifth try, the arena burst into a full-throated roar. Weverton had read Petersen's move correctly, diving to his left to stop the shot and send the crowd into euphoria.

Neymar then stepped up to take his country's penalty shot. He gave the ball a close inspection, placed it in position, and drilled it into the net. The Olympic drought was over, and Brazil had beaten Germany on Brazilian soil, 1-1 (5-4).

As he approached his shot, the Brazilian star had started to run at the ball, then came to a seemingly full stop, looking to see where German goalkeeper Timo Horn was leaning. He then followed through quickly, sending the ball into the left side of the net and past Horn's outstretched mitts.

For Brazil, this was a win to savor. Their victory lap morphed into photos with family and friends — several players' children came onto the field to help celebrate. When the medal ceremony came, the players danced on the podium together. And 30 minutes after the game, they were still on the field — and many of their fans were still here at Maracana, as well, singing and cheering.

After the win, Brazil's former star Pele tweeted, "I have so many memories from Maracana, and today a new one was created. What a perfect ending to the Olympic games."

Wearing blue shorts and their bright yellow jerseys, Brazil maintained a possession advantage through the first half – 56 percent to 44 percent. That dynamic didn't change in the second half, with Germany, dressed in gray and black, relying on its defense to defuse Brazil's attack.

Brazil's arrival in the gold medal match capped a remarkable rebound for the men's team, who were widely ridiculed after their early struggles in this tournament – which included a 0-0 draw with Iraq, which was then ranked No. 99 in the world.

Germany defended well all match: midway through the second half, Brazil had still managed only one shot on goal out of six shots total. But that dynamic shifted as Brazil pressed for the advantage. By the end of regulation, Brazil had fired off 10 shots in the second half, compared to just three in the first.

This was a physical game. Brazil drew two yellow cards and Germany four — three of them came within the last 15 minutes of the second period.

Afterwards, Brazilian defender Zeca downplayed the importance of beating Germany, the team that had embarrassed Brazil, 7-1, two years ago.

"This has nothing to do with Germany beating us in the World Cup," he said. "It did not matter who we played against. We just wanted the gold medal."

A young Rio resident who watched the game at Maracana echoed that idea, telling us after the match that she couldn't describe how happy she was with the golden result.

When we mentioned the World Cup, she cut us off.

"Don't talk about that," she said. Preferring to savor the win, she added, "Only happy things, today."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.