Rio De Janeiro: The first half was not even over and Brazilian fans, 3-0 up in the semi-final against Honduras, were chanting, “Germany, just you wait, your time is coming.”
A few hours later, their wish came true and after the Germans beat Nigeria 2-0 in the other semi-final one of the most intriguing sub-plots of the Olympics was set: an under-23 version of the unforgettable 2014 World Cup semi-final that finished Brazil 1-7 Germany. That six-goal mauling left a huge scar on Brazil’s footballing psyche and as the chants showed, fans in the host nation are desperate to get revenge if not on the full German side, then at least on a German side.
As they left the Maracana after their 6-0 win, Brazil’s players did not know if Germany would overcome Nigeria in the second semi-final. But they did, and that was good news for full back Douglas Santos. Most of his team mates preferred to downplay a potential revenge match and Santos was one of the few to admit there will be a special atmosphere at the Maracana when two of the greatest national teams in the world meet on Saturday.
“I don’t see it as being about revenge, for me it’s an opportunity,” said the Atletico Mineiro defender. “It will be an opportunity to turn around something the fans on Wednesday talk about as a difficult defeat. God willing, we are going to reverse that score line.”
In reality, the similarities between that game and Saturday’s one don’t go much farther than the names on the tickets. The teams that play the Olympic tournament comprise players under the age of 23, with three over-age players permitted on each team. Neymar is the only player on either squad to have played in the 2014 World Cup and he missed the Germany game through injury.
And although neither side have won the Olympic gold, communist East Germany won it in 1976, that is largely irrelevant to Germany but of huge importance to Brazil and they have gone all out to break their gold medal hoodoo. Brazil called up Neymar, arguably their only world-class player, as well as a host of their top performers that includes Gabriel Jesus, who signed for Manchester City last month for 27 million pounds; Gabriel Barbosa, the 19-year old striker who goes by the nickname Gabigol; and Paris St-Germain defender Marquinhos.
Brazilian sides were happy to let their player’s miss league duty to play in the Olympics because they are so desperate to win that one elusive title. German sides, meanwhile, were reluctant to let their top stars prioritize the Olympics over the Bundesliga and clubs are not obliged to release them. They came to Brazil with no players from the country’s dominant club Bayern Munich and only four from the other three clubs that finished in the top four of last year’s Bundesliga. Their three over-age players have just 26 full caps between them, while Brazil’s three have 81.
As if those advantages were not enough, Brazil will have home advantage. That made little difference in 2014 but Brazil hope that the Maracana is more intimidating that the Mineirao in Belo Horizonte and that the young German players are easier to ruffle than their older peers were two years ago.
“The fans help us,” said Gabriel Jesus after 52,000 supporters roared them to victory over Honduras. “It makes a difference. I am sure they will help us even more on Saturday.”