Olympics: A magical night at the Maracana as Brazil finally win Olympic football gold

Neymar of Brazil celebrating with fans in the stands after defeating Germany in the football men's gold medal match.
Neymar of Brazil celebrating with fans in the stands after defeating Germany in the football men's gold medal match. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Renato Augusto of Brazil celebrates by taking a selfie with fans after Brazil defeated Germany.
Renato Augusto of Brazil celebrates by taking a selfie with fans after Brazil defeated Germany.PHOTO: REUTERS
Brazil on the podium with their gold medals after defeating Germany in the football men's gold medal match at the Maracana.
Brazil on the podium with their gold medals after defeating Germany in the football men's gold medal match at the Maracana. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
The Brazilian football team with their gold medals strike a pose for the Maracana crowd.
The Brazilian football team with their gold medals strike a pose for the Maracana crowd. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

RIO DE JANEIRO - Perfect synchronicity is an apt way to describe what it felt like to be inside the fabled Maracana Stadium on Saturday night when Brazil beat Germany on penalties to finally win the Olympic gold medal in football.

There may have been almost 80,000 fans, most dressed in that famous canary yellow jersey, but they moved as one, sang as one, cheered as one, booed and whistled as one.

Each time the Selecao drove forward into the German final third, their supporters sprang to their feet in unison, breath held and full of anticipation of a goal.

When Neymar's delicious first-half free-kick crashed onto the underside of the crossbar and bounced into the net, the guttural, feral roar that erupted could probably be heard in nearby Copacabana.

There is history with the Germans after all. They had humiliated Brazil with a 7-1 thrashing at the 2014 World Cup and even though the Olympics is an Under-23 competition and only one player - Neymar - from either team was involved in that World Cup, this was still sweet justice for the host of the Rio Games.

Neymar missed that fateful game in Belo Horizonte, the Selecao's first loss in 62 competitive matches dating back to 1975 and their biggest defeat ever, as the football-mad nation was humiliated.

This Olympic gold is also the first for Brazil, the record holder of five World Cups, but who had strangely never stood on the top step of the football podium at the Summer Games. Not until Saturday evening.

Germany equalised in the second half but that only incited even more passion from the fans, who howled viciously at every touch by the opposition.

Every narrative has a hero, Neymar was the obvious choice, and a villain and that role fell to substitute Nils Petersen as the game and drama reached a climax with a penalty shoot-out.

Petersen, who later admitted he was affected by the intimidating atmosphere, missed his team's fifth - and eventually final - attempt, allowing Neymar, Brazil's captain and national icon, to smash the winner and erase years of pain at this hallowed ground.

Any football fan has heard tales of the Maracana, of its iconic place in Brazil's history and the scene of the country's greatest heartbreak; close to 200,000 people once crammed into its bowels for the 1950 World Cup final and were sent into states of despair when the host lost 2-1 to Uruguay.

But this time the tears that fell from the crowd of faces - one of the ladies carrying the tray of medals for the victory ceremony could not stop sobbing afterwards - were of joy and redemption.

When Neymar's penalty flew into the net, the stadium shook as shirtless men jumped and embraced while a grandfather wept while cradling his grandson. Even the stoic military guards hugged each other.

The stadium announcer had earlier declared two of the six exits were closed for spectators but he need not have bothered. No one wanted to leave after the final whistle it seemed. People sang and danced, took photographs, drank more Skol beer. Around the city, drivers honked in celebration. It was Carnival come early.

The Brazil team, changed into their tracksuits, returned to collect their medals and join their countrymen in a rousing rendition of the national anthem that could be heard from within the ground floor media centre.

After the medal presentation, as his team-mates strolled around the field and soaked in the moment, Neymar climbed up into the stands and like a rock star in a mosh pit, was carried by his adoring fans.

It was fitting end to the night, for it was Neymar who had lifted his country to new heights.