The match that mattered most
The beautiful game has a habit of writing beautiful scripts. And so it was with the Olympic men’s football final. Brazil could not be separated from Germany in normal time. The host nation’s star forward Neymar scored from an exquisite free kick after 26 minutes. Germany levelled the score in the second half, with Maximilian Meyer slotting the ball home to finish off a slick attacking move. The Maracanã stadium filled with 90,000 fans grew tense as the matched moved into extra time and then penalties. Nils Petersen, uncharacteristically, missed the penultimate spot kick. Neymar (who else?) stepped up to take the final penalty for victory.
For many Brazilians, the victory — in sporting terms, at least — made the Olympics worth hosting. The result has helped avenge two of the most infamous defeats in the country’s history. The first, known as the “Maracanazo”, occurred in the same stadium in 1950, when Brazil reached the final while hosting the World Cup only to lose the final to Uruguay in front of an estimated 200,000 grieving supporters.
The other was Brazil’s humiliating 7-1 loss to Germany when again hosting the World Cup two years ago. That loss has come to be seen as the worst defeat in its rich footballing history and the symbolic start of two years of national decline.
On Saturday night, Brazilian fans booed the Germans when they had possession of the ball so loudly the roof of the giant Maracanã reverberated. When Neymar fired off the winning penalty, they sang “the Champion has returned” and loudly joined in for the national anthem during the medal ceremony.
Perhaps winning the gold medal in the sport that matters most to Brazilians will help improve the national mood, with signs that an economic downturn may be bottoming and that a political impasse over the impeachment of leftwing President Dilma Rousseff is nearing its conclusion. If the impeachment can be concluded immediately after the Olympics and the expected new government of interim president Michel Temer can introduce some reforms, Brazil might come to see the Olympics as a symbolic turning point in its fortunes.
While some may sneer at the value of the Olympic football tournament, in Brazil, winning this title mattered. It is the only international tournament Brazil had not won. The quest for the gold had become a national obsession. Captain Neymar, a devout Christian, stepped onto the podium wearing a headband reading “100% Jesus”. High above the stadium, Christ the Redeemer was lit in green and yellow colours. The football gods were with Brazil.
History for Farah with ‘double double’
All those who had watched Mo Farah win three Olympic gold medals knew what his tactics would be as the men’s 5000m final reached its conclusion. Once again, the Briton triggered his trademark “kick” in the final lap — a sudden surge that his opponents cannot match — to win his fourth gold. He ran his final lap in 52.83 seconds — an astonishing time befitting the last lap of an 800m race — to win in 13:03.30.
The victory means he has won the 10,000m and 5,000m at consecutive Olympics — a historic “double double”. Farah’s unprecedented success on the track makes him one of the standout stars of the Rio games alongside sprinter Usain Bolt, gymnast Simone Biles and swimmers Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps. While Britain has won 27 golds at this Olympics, Farah’s performance is the one that will resonate across the world.
UK still second going into the last day
As well as Farah, two more British golds on Saturday kept Britain second in the overall medal table, ahead of China.
In London four years ago, Nicola Adams became the first woman to win a boxing gold medal. In Rio, she became the first woman to retain her Olympic title, beating her arch rival Sarah Ourahmoune of France in the final of the women’s flyweight division.
It could be the end of an era in women’s boxing. Ourahmoune announced her retirement after winning silver. At 33 years old, Adams has not yet decided on her future. “I’m now the most accomplished British amateur boxer of all time,” she told reporters. “It’s a nice title to have. . . I’ve had a massive amount of support from Yorkshire and the rest of the nation. I feel like I have all their support in the ring with me, every punch I was throwing.”
On the last day of competition at the lagoon in Lagoa, Liam Heath won gold in the K1 200m canoe sprint. Having won a bronze in London, and a silver already at the Rio games, he joins Tim Brabants and David Florence as Britain’s most decorated canoeist. Five years ago he quit the sport altogether, before having a change of heart. “Essentially it’s what I’ve worked for all my life,” he said. “I just started coming back into the sport in 2009 after leaving it without any thought of competing again. To think that if I hadn’t come back in I’d be missing out on this is quite scary, to be honest.”
In the triathlon, Vicky Holland became the first British woman to win an Olympic triathlon medal. She made the podium after seeing off her British teammate Non Stanford in a sprint finish at Copacabana beach. The event was won by USA’s Gwen Jorgensen, with Switzerland’s Nicola Hug Spirig taking silver.
Britain also won bronzes in the women’s 4 x 400m relay and in taekwondo to end the day with 66 medals, surpassing the haul from the London 2012 games. It is the country’s best performance at an Olympics for more than a century. Bowing to national demand, Prime Minister Theresa May has announced that a victory parade for Britain’s medallists will take place in Manchester after the conclusion of the Paralympic games.
The final finals
The last weekend of the Olympics sees the climax of many team tournaments as the games reach their conclusion. In women’s basketball, the USA continued its overwhelming dominance, winning the final against Spain 101-72. The American women have won six successive Olympic basketball titles. The nation’s men, a team filled with stars from the NBA, have faced more of a challenge reaching their final, pushed to their limits by the likes of Spain and France. They play Serbia on Sunday. Anything other than victory would be the shock of the games.
In women’s handball, Russia beat France 22-19 to win gold. In men’s water polo, Serbia beat Croatia 11-7 in the final. And in the very last medal awarded on Saturday night, China beat Serbia in women’s volleyball final in four sets — 19-25, 25-17, 25-22, 25-23. The Asian superpower stayed within reach of Britain, just one gold behind in the medal standings.
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