They’ve done it! After tough semi-final battles against Nigeria and Canada respectively, both of the German Olympic football teams have made history. For the first time, they will be playing for Olympic gold. In reaching the final Horst Hrubesch’s men’s team will better the bronze medal won in Seoul in 1988, and Silvia Neid’s women’s team will finally have the chance to goal for gold after their three bronze medals in 2000, 2004 and 2008.
Behringer penalty settles German nerves
The women’s team were the first to make the final, putting aside any lingering memories of their 2-1 group phase defeat at the hands of the Canadians. There was a sense of deja vu at the Mineirão in Belo Horizonte as Melanie Behringer put the Olympia-Mädels in front from the penalty spot after defender Kadeisha Buchanan had scythed down Alexandra Popp, but this time there was no quick Canadian equaliser.
There was a clear sense of purpose about Behringer as she hammered the shot home, and despite a few small scares Neid’s team made it safely to half time with their one-goal lead intact.
Canada were always going to press harder in the second half, but Germany kept looking for the second goal. Janine Beckie went close for the Canadians as her shot sailed narrowly wide, but a wonderfully crafted goal from Sara Däbritz settled the issue on the hour mark.
Germany’s opponents continued to push forward and create a number of half-chances, but ‘keeper Almuth Schult was never really tested. When the final whistle blew, it was as if a massive weight had been lifted from German shoulders. They were in the final at last.
The German team celebrate their 2-0 win. The gold medal match awaits!
Going for Gold
Germany’s opponents in the final will be Sweden, who are only in Rio because Great Britain were unable to put a combined squad together. Having incurred the comedic wrath of United States goalkeeper and media chatterer Hope Solo for daring to beat the reigning champions and pre-tournament favourites on penalties after a 1-1 quarter-final draw, the Swedes then went on to pull off the same feat against Brazil in the semis.
Having held the hosts to a goalless draw and surviving a torrid thirty minutes of extra time, Sweden kept their heads in the shootout to book their place in the final showpiece.
Germany are favourites to take the gold medal at the Maracanã, but nothing should be taken for granted. Sweden are more than capable of pulling off the same trick, and like Euro 2016 winners Portugal they have quite literally crawled to the final. In their five matches, they have only won one – a narrow 1-0 win over South Africa.
Hrubesch’s heroes defeat tough Nigerians
The women had set the gold standard, and it was up to the star-studded men’s team to follow them on the golden road to the Maracanã.
Early on at the Arena Corinthians in São Paulo, it looked as though the dynamic Olympiamannschaft would take their African opponents apart. After a couple of decent chances, a wonderful moved carved the Nigerian defence right open; captain Max Meyer’s perfectly timed ball found left-back Lukas Klostermann, who was left with the easiest of tap-ins.
Hrubesch’s men were looking solid up front, but ‘keeper Timo Horn almost threw the lead away with an awful botched clearance. Thankfully, the 1. FC Köln ‘keeper stood up well to the keep the Nigerians out. As half-time approached Nigeria were looking really dangerous, and the whistle could not have come quickly enough.
Greedy Gnabry, heroic Ginter
The second half started brightly, with Serge Gnabry forcing Nigerian ‘keeper Emmanuel Daniel into a fine save and then setting up Davie Selke, who was unable to execute a finish and get that crucial second goal.
Gnabry has been one of the Germany’s men of the tournament with six goals, but here he was guilty of going for glory when a simpler pass would have down the job. Two shots went wide with men in acres of space just waiting for the ball. With the Germans starting to wilt in the heat, there was a sense of foreboding as Nigeria threw everything forward.
Nigeria were guilty of wasting some excellent opportunities – a free-kick right at the edge of the box was hoofed high into the crowd – but the hero of the German defence was the excellent Matthias Ginter, who was almost everywhere, throwing his body in front of everything. So much so that Horn didn’t have a serious save to make.
One might have expected Hrubesch to shore things up at the back in the closing stages, but the German coach pulled a rabbit out of the hat in bringing the team’s elder statesman Nils Petersen on for the tiring Gnabry.
Forced to throw everything forward, Nigeria knew they were taking huge risks. With a minute remaining Selke again went for goal when a pass would have been a better option, but his shot was sufficiently off target for Petersen to arrive at the far post to turn it in and settle all of the jangling German nerves.
Following his five against Fiji in the group stage, the SC Freiburg striker joined Gnabry at the top of the tournament goalscoring charts.
Nils Petersen is mobbed after scoring Germany’s second goal. A classic encounter against hosts Brazil awaits.
A classic final
Hosts Brazil started the tournament slowly with goalless draws against unheralded South Africa and Iraq, but a 4-0 win against Denmark helped kick-start their campaign. After beating Colombia 2-0 in the last eight and putting six past surprise side Honduras in the semi-finals, Rogério Micale’s men are hitting form just at the right time.
The result is the final everybody wanted: a famous battle between the sport’s two biggest powers. It will also pit the tournament’s best defence against the best attack; in a curious role-reversal, the Brazilians are yet to concede a single goal while Germany have found the back of the net 21 times in their five matches played.
It is an opportunity for Brazil to exact some small revenge for their 7-1 hammering in 2014, and a chance for the Olympiamannschaft to secure an historic gold medal. Should Germany triumph in the final, Ginter will become the first World Cup winner to also become an Olympic champion.