The German Olympic football teams headed into their final two matches hunting for two gold medals. After over three hours of pulsating actionin Rio’s famous Maracanã stadium over two evenings, they almost made it. A stunning first Olympic gold for the women’s team, and an oh-so-close silver for the men’s Olympiamannschaft. While there was glory for Silvia Neid’s team, there was a clear silver lining for Horst Hrubesch’s men’s side, with one penalty kick separating them from a glorious golden finish.
Overall, the results were fantastic. German football can rightfully be proud.
Neid finally rewarded
Silvia Neid has quite a back story at the Olympic Games. A bronze medal as a player in Beijing in 2008, and an unfortunate absence from the tournament in London in 2012 as coach. After so many near misses, her success was overdue, and fittingly it came in her final tournament at the helm.
It was always going to be a tough final against outsiders Sweden, who had punched well above their weight to eliminate both favourites USA and hosts Brazil in their previous knockout matches – a run made even more special given their 5-1 hammering by the Brazilians in the group stage.
For a while, it looked as though things were not going to go the Germans’ way. For all of their negative play in their two previous matches, the Swedes started brightly, and there was plenty of nerves at the back for the Germans – playing in all all-red Trikot. When the usually reliable Anja Mittag missed a sitter from close range, one felt that Sweden might just be able to pull off the impossible.
Marozsán breaks the deadlock
It took just three minutes of the second half for Neid’s Mädels to break the deadlock. Finding space outside the Swedish box, Dzsenifer Marozsán lashed a lovely right-footed effort that gave the Swedish ‘keeper no chance. One became two fourteen minutes later. A Marozsán free-kick smashed against the post, leaving defender Linda Sembrandt in a complete pickle. Unable to clear, Sembrandt could only turn the ball into her own net.
It looked done and dusted, but we had to have a bit of drama. Just five minutes after going two down, a lovely move from the Swedes saw sub Stina Blackstenius get in behind the German defence and sweep the ball past Almuth Schult – who earlier in the game had emulated Manuel Neuer with a spectacular headed clearance.
The Swedes had nothing to close, but the German defence saw things through. There were a few moments of panic, but there was no way Neid’s team were going to be denied. After three bronze medals in 2000, 2004 and 2008, it was finally time to claim the coveted gold.
The German team celebrate with their gold medals after the 2-1 over Sweden in Rio. Also visible is the number six shirt belonging to Simone Laudehr, who was forced to miss the tournament through injury.
Hrubesch’s heroes take on Brazil
The following day, the men’s team looked to complete their quest for gold against hosts Brazil. In an atmosphere that could kindly be described as hostile, Horst Hrubesch’s talented bunch of kids showed maturity beyond their years in competing with a home team containing the country’s much fêted superstar, Neymar.
The first half was uncomfortable at times against the fast-paced Brazilians, but it was the Olympiamannschaft that created the better chances. A Julian Brandt effort hit the post after just eleven minutes, and it would take a Neymar stumble to give Brazil their opportunity after twenty-seven minutes. Unfortunately, Neymar did not miss.
Germany refused to be put out of their stride however, and Max Mayer forced a save from ‘keeper Wéverton before Sven Bender’s header found the woodwork for a second time. It looked like it was going to be one of those evenings scripted for the hosts.
Meyer takes it to the wire
Hrubesch’s team started the second half as they had finished the first, and finally got their reward a minute short of the hour mark. Lars Bender’s pass out to the right found the fast-advancing Jeremy Toljan, whose neat cutback into the box was brilliant swept into the bottom left hand corner by skipper Max Meyer.
Skipper Max Meyer nets Germany’s equaliser against Brazil in Rio after fifty-nine minutes. Sadly, it would not be enough to set the Olympiamannschaft on the path to gold.
The remaining half an hour couldn’t separate the two teams, nor could thirty further minutes of energy-sapping extra time. German ‘keeper Timo Horn did well to keep out Felipe Anderson, and a tiring German team were content to keep the ball and see things out.
Somehow, we all knew it was going to come down to a penalty shootout.
At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, a German team featuring the likes of Jürgen Klinsmann and Wolfram Wuttke had lost their semi-final to Brazil on penalties – after a 1-1 draw. The fates decreed it would be same in Rio, with Neymar inevitably scoring the winning penalty to send the home crowd into loud, seething mass of celebration.
Matthias Ginter – looking for an Olympic gold medal to add to his World Cup winning gold – got things underway. Serge Gnabry’s effort squeezed under Wéverton, and Brandt produced the best penalty of the shootout as he hammed the ball into the top right-hand corner. When Niklas Süle scored to put his side 4-3 up, all of the pressure was on Brazil.
Luan beat Horn to level things up, but the series of successful kicks was finally broken when Nils Petersen, on as a second half substitute, saw his low shot palm away by Wéverton. It was one of those ironies: all of the kids had scored, but the senior pro had seen his kick saved. In truth Petersen’s kick was no worse than Gnabry’s or Süle’s, but this time the Brazilian ‘keeper had read it correctly.
It was all set up for home superstar Neymar, and he made no mistake.
A scripted finalé
Germany’s quest for gold in the men’s tournament had failed, but it was far from a failure for Hrubesch’s Jungs. Brazil had needed to call upon their biggest superstar – a player with seventy full international caps – to bolster their Olympic team, and it was he in the end who made the difference both with his free-kick as well as the winning penalty. It was indeed one of those evenings, and one could not have written a better script for the hosts.
Before the gold medal match, much had been made about Germany’s 7-1 demolition of Brazil in the World Cup in 2014. Commentators – particularly those on the BBC – were throwing out terms like “revenge”, “retribution” and “redemption”, but the Brazilian coach himself was among the first to play this down.
The German team with their silver medals after their penalty shootout defeat against hosts Brazil. On show is the number 10 shirt belonging to skipper Leon Goretzka, who was injured during the tournament.
A silver lining
For the Olympiamannschaft, their run in the tournament showed that there is plenty of up-and-coming talent in the international ranks. Midfielders Meyer and Brandt showed their class. Offensive speedsters Gnabry and Davie Selke showed plenty of potential. The established Bender twins were impressive both for their tenacity and fighting qualities, and over the course of the tournament Petersen showed that he could be worth a shot at senior level.
Defensively, centre-back Ginter was a rock, and Süle had some great moments. Full-backs Toljan and Lukas Klostermann both impressed. Then there were the less heralded players who also played their part, Grischa Prömel and Philipp Max to name but two.
With a case full of gold and silver medals to take from Rio, German football has much to shout about.