The mercurial Neymar led Brazil to a euphoric Olympic gold medal triumph in the men’s football final in Rio, scoring from a brilliant free-kick during the first half before burying the winning penalty during the shooting after the hosts were tied 1-1 with Germany at the end of extra-time.
Neymar’s strike in the 27th minute was an absolute beauty.
The 24-year-old Barcelona star’s wonderful goal was cancelled out by a Max Meyer’s goal in the 59th minute, but the home side would not be denied in a dramatic penalty shootout.
An emotional Neymar collapsed to the turf in tears as almost 80,000 fans at Rio’s Maracanã Stadium erupted.
Brazil’s victory exorcised several demons.
Besides being the nation’s inaugural football success at the Olympics, it helped ease the pain of Brazil’s humiliating 7-1 defeat at the hands of Germany on home soil in the 2014 World Cup semi-final.
It also ended Brazil’s Maracanã Stadium curse.
The spectacular venue was constructed for the 1950 World Cup, where a triumph by the hosts was widely regarded as a foregone conclusion heading into the final against Uruguay.
The official attendance was an inconceivable 199,854 (although the actual figure was estimated to be about 210,000), and Brazil’s 2-1 loss to its South American rivals was viewed as a national tragedy, forever to be known as ‘Maracanazo’.
The nation descended into a spiral of shock and complete devastation. One distressed fan reportedly committed suicide after the final whistle, while three others died from heart attacks.
Goalkeeper Barbosa, beaten for the winning goal, became Brazil’s perpetual outcast.In 1993, he attempted to visit the national team’s training camp, but was turned away amid fears he would bring it bad luck.
Shortly before his death in 2000, Barbosa said: “Under Brazilian law, the maximum sentence is 30 years. But my imprisonment has been for 50 years.”
Brazil has enjoyed myriad euphoric successes on the international stage since, but glory on its own turf – with the entire world watching – remained the ultimate goal.
The 2014 World Cup was an agonising lost opportunity, but the curse is now over – and they have talisman Neymar to thank.