The Olympic Games: Gold & Bronze Medal Matches
The women’s gold and bronze medal matches at the 2016 Olympic Games were surprisingly similar. The Reds dominated the opening hour and established a two-goal lead, before the Yellows got one back and made the closing stages far more uncomfortable for the Reds than they should have been. Spooky, eh? (No).
FINA…SORRY…”GOLD MEDAL MATCH” Germany 2 Sweden 1
It could have been a lot worse. Many informed observers and at least one ill-informed one (me) were booked in for nil-nil and penalties. But Sweden’s more positive outlook gave the tournament the seven-out-of-ten final it merited. Nigel Adderley’s BBC commentary suggested an early change of Swedish keeper. “Chelsea’s Lindahl” started but after some exceptionally jittery handling errors, she was replaced by twin sister Nedvig. He also called the first half “attritional,” And while replays of the regular first-half chances shifted him to “attritional at times,” that was still unfair. Anja Mittag missed the easiest of a number of German chances and Sweden played like a team steadily improving the merging of counter-attacking into their blanket defence. Striker Lotta Schelin, effectively left-back since the quarter-finals, even had a shot.
Germany’s Dzsenifer Marozsan had plenty of first-half shots, all a mile off target. So her wonderful 48th-minute goal was a pleasant surprise on two counts. It didn’t immediately “open up the game” as opening goals against defence-minded underdogs supposedly do. That came after the second goal, Linda Sembrandt’s stunning finish…into the wrong net, alas. Adderley put Germany’s lead down to “a deflection and an own goal,” which was harsh. Countless replays failed to reveal any deflection on Marozsan’s shot, let alone a decisive one and Sembrandt netted a brilliant Marozsan free-kick against the post. The lead was a bit fragile after goal-scoring heroine of Sweden’s win over the USA, Stina Blackstenius, pulled one back on 66 minutes.
But Adderley’s analysis that 24 minutes was “a long time for Germany to hang on” was undermined by the German chance created as he spoke and Alexandra Popp’s trademark miss moments later (good player though Popp is, much of her Olympics placed her in the “what is the point of?” column). Olivia Schough (pronounced…a different way for each day of the week) took an air-shot at Sweden’s one clear chance at forcing extra-time. And Germany “hung on” with a degree of comfort. Still, Sweden beat the USA. They did the Olympics some service. And they know’t. No more of that.
THIRD-PLACED PLAY-O…NO, I KNOW…”BRONZE MEDAL MATCH” Canada 2 Brazil 1
So who knew Brazil were that bad? If their first 70 minutes was a tactic to lull Canada into a false sense of “how f***ing easy is this?” before robbing them blind with 20 minutes of route one, it damn nearly worked. But it wasn’t. Marta sulked her way into a booking. Cristiane was only half-fit. And their best player was 38-year-old Formiga, who has played in every Women’s Olympic football tournament ever. “Tactically, I don’t think they’re very good,” said BBC analyst Sue Smith, with appropriately Olympian understatement.
Adderley was a tad too convinced that veteran striker Christine Sinclair’s 52nd-minute goal had won bronze for Canada, although had 17-year-old Deanne Rose not hit the post seven minutes later, the result could have been declared. But Adderley’s complacency somehow transferred to Canadian boss John Herdman in Sao Paulo from wherever the commentators were (Smith consistently called Brazil “over there” while Adderley said he’d spoken to Sweden boss Pia Sundhage earlier that week).
Rose didn’t seem to be tiring when she broke through to hit the post. And taking her off immediately was the first of two defensive-minded substitutions which un-necessarily handed momentum to Brazil, whose direct late style exacerbated Canada’s match-long frailties at setpieces. Where Canada’s opener was swift counter-attacking football at its majestic best, Brazil’s was a long throw which centre-forward Bia fired home from six yards. The contrast in style and quality was evident until Brazil’s strong finishes to each half made it more exciting than the entertaining 2-1 thrashing it should have been.
Much of the BBC commentary part-blamed Brazils’ performance on their shambolic league structure. There has even been insane post-Games talk of dismantling their national team. And the bronze medals are going to the right homes. Brazil’s wait for Women’s Olympic Gold could be a long one…or over.
Hate to say I told you so. Because I didn’t. Brazil got the Gold which mattered, apparently (if you ignore the women’s football, which you do as they came fourth). And Neymar found redemption for the “7-1 game.” As Brazil’s low-key coach Rogerio Micale said: “It is a different time with different players. It has nothing to do with the past.” Oh… Had I done my research, I’d have supported Honduras in the Bronze Medal match. Nigeria were much the better team throughout the tournament but Honduras had never won any Olympic medal.
GOLD MEDAL PLAY-OFF…WHATEVER: Germany 1 Brazil 1 (Brazil win 5-4 on penalties, Neymar gets the winning kick, like it was stage-managed that way. Not that it was).
WTF happened to Germany after they scored? Brazilian keeper/Peter Andre stunt-double Weverton conceded his first goal of the tournament when German captain Max Meyer rolled one past him on 50 minutes. And Germany, in control since Neymar’s stunning 27th-minute free-kick…collapsed. For the last 70 of the 120 minutes, Germany ran about like they desperately needed the toilet. It was a curious, sudden plummet in energy. Brazil’s strikers went about their business with almost no fear of leaving exploitable gaps at the back. And only Germany’s painfully sunburnt but wonderfully-named keeper Timo Horn took the game to penalties.
The famous, if stereotypical, German “mentality” went missing. The Bender twins showed a twin reluctance to leave the field when injured. Lars’ temporary immobility nearly cost Germany a goal. While Sven refused to go off when his number was held up and sub Max Christiansen was stood waiting to come on. Manager Horst Hrubesch smiled sincerely as he led a post-match lap of honour. He was probably not quite so happy with the Benders. Despite Germany’s early control, Brazil should have won, convincingly, in 90 minutes. Gabriel Jesus began to look more like a potential Manchester City player as Germany tired (even if boot-quaking is not yet a problem for Sergio Aguero). Weverton, one shoot-out penalty aside, looked a better keeper than the Peter Andre mask suggested.
Ricardo Agusto, in the “Dunga” role (i.e. dull holding midfielder with minimal passing range but the ability to be in two places, at least, at once) protected Brazil’s centre-backs from horrible exposure. Mind you, their German counterparts matched them for snail’s pace. And Neymar won the tournament. At least, that’s what its history will say. He only did what the most-talented player picked for a tournament should. But very few such players do so. His free-kick goal here was a photogenic stunner and his shoot-out penalty and reaction was the perfect end to the perfect Brazilian Olympic movie…Neymar’s genuine tears over Stuart Pearce’s popping veins any day. It could not have been stage-managed any better. Not that it was.
BRONZE THINGY: Nigeria 3 Honduras 2
The late, great Jock Stein claimed that football was nothing without supporters. This lunatic match in front of a gathering, not a crowd, proved it. The scoreboard operators got away with 3-2. Had players such as Honduran Albert Ellis (Alberth Elias) been on anywhere near song, it might have been a tennis score…and not the six-love of Honduras’s semi-final. Alas, Elias looked like a cross between Screaming Jay Hawkins in the 1989 Jim Jarmusch film Mystery Train and 1992-vintage Linford Christie, matching Christie’s pace of the latter with Hawkins’ composure in one-on-one situations.
The half-time score of one-nil was a puzzle, no matter who was leading. Neither side could defend. So they didn’t bother. Nigeria’s two-goal start was harsh on Honduras but at least gave the goals total a more truthful look. And in front of a full stadium the match would have been a classic as Honduras mounted a comeback inspired by the mystifyingly left-out Anthony Lozano. Nigeria were worthy winners, though. Of the match, just (although the member of Nigeria’s coaching staff giving out to every player in sight/earshot after the match seemed even less sure). Of the bronze medal, certainly, even if a Honduran victory might have been even better received because of the nation’s Olympic medal-less history. Mind you, I’m sure wherever they are now, South Korea’s team will be wondering, possibly still aloud, how they lost to them.
SO HOW WAS IT FOR ME?
Neither tournament quite matched London 2012. And a nagging doubt remains about the true quality of both Gold Medal-winning teams. I’m not one to push a “Great Britain” cause (oh…you’ve noticed). But annoying though the consistent hints were that England would have won Gold if only they existed as an Olympic team, they were grounded more in reality than mindless jingoism. England beat Germany to last year’s World Cup bronze. And there’s little case to be made for this year’s Germany being a better side.
The novelty of the “world feed” TV commentary never wore off. But it was still nice to hear from the BBC quartet – Adderley, Smith, Alistair Mann and Kevin Kilbane, the most Northern English-sounding Irishman since Mick McCarthy. It wasn’t “BBC coverage” in any sense, really. Which occasionally mattered. For 76 minutes, the BBC iplayer coverage of the men’s final was soundtracked by appalling pre-recorded crowd noises (with a stadium announcer droning on throughout), appallingly applied (the “cheers” invariably arrived about three seconds late). “Look at the crowd,” said Mann, as the Maracana bounced after Neymar’s goal. For 76 minutes, it was our only option.
The officiating was occasionally as appalling. Mostly from the referee’s assistants, who missed plenty of clear offside calls, as well as the impossible ones you’d excuse…if your team didn’t suffer from the error. Brazil’s grounds must have thick touchlines too, the number of times the ball seemed to be halfway to the advertising hoardings or the dug-out before a flag was raised. Consequential errors were thankfully few. The inability to spot fearsomely-built keepers charging towards shoot-out penalties (hello, Barbara of Brazil) didn’t affect any results. And the ludicrous decision to dismiss New Zealand’s Abby Erceg for being fouled against Colombia was quickly rescinded and rendered unimportant anyway by the Ferns’ general torpor.
Two good tournaments overall, though. There was a more attack-minded attitude than Euro 2016 and, to an extent, the 2015 Women’s World Cup. This didn’t help the minnows. But there was more enjoyment to be had from Zimbabwe women’s and Fiji men’s teams than watching Iceland grind out results across France (with one Joe Hart-inspired exception). Even Sweden’s ultra-defensive displays produced a “right result.” When much of this tournament pours through the cracked walls of our memory banks, Hope Solo losing disgracefully will stay right where it is.
A final thought. It is the now-traditional time for codswallop “why can’t Premier League footballers be like our brave Olympians?” and “why is mega-rich football in the Olympics anyway?” articles. For example, Bryony Gordon’s Daily Telegraph effort on 19th August, Britain’s flash footballers could learn a lesson from ordinary Olympians, showed pig-ignorance of every connected issue. (Arguing that “GB” were “rubbish” at football, she dismissed Wales’ Euro 2016 run as “lovely for about ten minutes” and forgot England’s bronze at the 2015 Women’s World Cup…in a piece for the Telegraph’s “Lifestyle – Women” section!! File under “f**k off”).
But there is no reason why “Britain’s flash footballers” wouldn’t react like Neymar to his Gold Medal-winning penalty. While it rubbished my men’s final predictions, I couldn’t but be moved by it. And while to many, Neymar is the archetypal “flash footballer,” the Olympics mattered to him as much as they did to anyone. Amid everything, which for Neymar was “everything” in hundred-foot-high letters), the Olympic spirit prevailed. Football and footballers belong in the Olympics. They’ve been in all-but-two of the modern Games. And this year’s tournaments showed at least as much of the Olympic spirit as any drug-and-dodgy-judge besmirched sport. Leave it be. And well done all.
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