Brazil served notice of their intent – and more importantly their ability – to retain the Olympic Gold medal in men’s football with an impressive 4-2 victory over Germany on Thursday.
Five years ago in Rio, these two sides met in the final and it took a penalty shootout to separate them; here in Yokohama there was an absolute gulf between them in terms of quality, despite the scoreline somehow looking as though it was a reasonably close affair.
In truth, the match was over by the 30-minute mark and the Selecao’s Olympic contingent could have been five or six up by that point – instead it was “only” 3-0, with Richarlison netting them all.
Before the break Matheus Cunha, one of the game’s stand-out performers, saw a penalty saved and he, Richarlison and Antony could all have found the net at least once more apiece as a ragged Germany defence was sliced apart over and over.
Changes during the interval and in the second half, combined with Brazil’s ongoing profligacy, actually saw Germany somehow close the gap despite a red card for captain and overage player Max Arnold, with Nadiem Amiri finishing from the edge of the box and Ragnar Ache heading in a late second.
However, after Cunha had missed another big chance and Brazil spurned three late counter-attacking opportunities to net a fourth, Paulinho finally wrapped up the win with a sumptuous stoppage-time curler to add some realism to the scoreline.
Andre Jardine will perhaps have some concerns over the amount of chances spurned by his Brazil team in a match they were utterly dominant in for long stretches, but that will be little more than a coach’s search for perfectionsim.
In more broad terms, the movement and link play in the final third was of a thoroughly daunting nature for any defence which is set to come up against them – with Saudi Arabia and Ivory Coast the other teams in Group D.
And while it is only the first match of six if they plan to go all the way once more and emulate Neymar, Marquinhos and Co, there were few flaws on show – outside of errant finishing – to give an indication of how rivals could upset them, even factoring in conceding twice.
As for Germany, Stefan Kuntz must be considering the reset button already for the remaining group fixtures, with the defensive set-up looking frail and badly balanced right from kick-off – and his skipper now suspended after his sending-off.
Amos Pieper and Benjamin Henrichs were continually exposed and overloaded down the right side of the pitch and there’s little margin for error now if they want to reach the knockouts, with a must-win game against Saudi Arabia next.
Elsewhere there were several surprise results as the Men’s Football Tournament got underway and none of Spain, France or Argentina won their games.
Despite fielding a team containing six players who featured regularly at Euro 2020, Spain were held to a 0-0 draw by Egypt in the opening fixture.
Spain’s cause was not helped by first-half injuries to right-back Oscar Mingueza and central midfielder Dani Ceballos.
France’s original Olympic squad had to be heavily revamped after some clubs refused call-ups for their players, and the resulting group failed to shine as they lost 4-1 to Mexico, veteran striker Andre-Pierre Gignac netting the consolation from the penalty spot.
There was success for the Southern hemisphere as Burnley striker Chris Wood secured a 1-0 win for New Zealand over South Korea, and Australia shocked Argentina with a 2-0 victory – Francisco Ortega being sent-off just before half-time for the South Americans.
Hosts Japan started with a 1-0 win over South Africa thanks to Real Madrid starlet Takefusa Kubo’s goal, while Romania beat Honduras by the same scoreline.
And in the same group as Brazil’s convincing win over Germany, Ivory Coast emerged 2-1 victors against Saudi Arabia, with AC Milan’s Franck Kessie hitting the winner to tee up an intriguing clash in the next round of games against the reigning gold medalists.