Brazil's football chance
Neymar's side can end unwanted streak, gain revenge, and resurrect the national game
It started even before the opening ceremony and will come to a head on Sunday morning (Singapore time) with a pair of teams the organisers perhaps would have been hoping for when they planned the tournament for the 2016 Olympic Games here in Rio.
Maybe, Germany were also who Brazil were hoping for, although history suggests few will ever want to play the European giants in a high-stakes football contest.
The tournament kicked off a couple of days before the opening ceremony on Aug 5 and all I can remember were the boos and the hissing that accompanied the Brazil side, because all the Brazilians remember.
The team drew a blank in their opening two games against South Africa and Iraq, Neymar was a man distracted by his millions, they complained angrily, football here was no longer fantasy but had turned dark, the national game was suffering, paying penance because of the sin of corruption and neglect.
Suffering because no one could forget the 7-1 humiliation on home soil by Germany in the 2014 World Cup semi-finals.
Then came a must-win final group game against Denmark and Brazil responded, letting loose in a 4-0 victory.
Now they are in the final, and out of the depths of despair in Belo Horizonte two years ago comes an opportunity for Brazil to begin the long climb back up.
And gain a small measure of revenge.
The hosts will line up against Germany at the Maracana Stadium, and suddenly, the country is engaged.
This is a contest between two sides mostly made up of young players - the tournament comprises players under the age of 23, with three overage players permitted for every team - but neither nation have won Olympic men's football gold, and both want to end that surprising streak.
Said Brazil's Gabriel Jesus, after the team's semi-final win over Honduras: "This is what we wanted. We are fighting to conquer this. Everything is in our favour as we are at home in Brazil."
Nearly three hours before the semi-final against Honduras, Brazil's football cathedral was crowded and, with an hour to go to kick-off, it was a heaving, singing mass of nearly 78,000 souls.
After only 15 seconds, Neymar pounced, scoring the fastest goal in Olympic history, and football's legendary samba sound went loud.
It only got louder as the Barcelona star led the inexperienced Hondurans on a merry dance, orchestrating a thrilling 6-0 victory despite some brutal treatment by the opponents.
For years now the senior side have played colourless football, they have been fearful, weighed down by the huge expectations every Brazil team carry on their shoulders.
Here, at this Olympics, the Brazilian youngsters led by 24-year-old Neymar have been playing fast, attacking football, even in the two games at the start, where they created a torrent of chances but simply could not find their scoring boots.
The post-match press conference at the Maracana yesterday morning was like all the ones involving Brazil - packed to overflowing, noisy, with numerous TV cameras and crew bellowing at those blocking their view, radio commentators and a crowd of press.
Coach Rogerio Micale, on the brink of hero status, stayed for nearly an hour.
"I think we have had a good campaign so far and now in the final stretch we are playing good football, the football we wanted to show, the beautiful game.
"But every match is a different story and the next one we have to be strong but we are developing and growing and this is an important time for Brazil," he emphasised.
The final is more important to Brazil than Germany.
The German system is the envy of all and the local game is humming along nicely. But, like any German outfit, the Olympic team will pull no punches in their bid to strike gold.
They have good vibes of the Maracana, after the seniors lifted the World Cup there two years ago.
They will feel the heat from most of the crowd but could adopt the mind-control technique of the beach volleyball players who faced a Brazilian pair in the final, and blocked out the noise from the partisans, to win gold.
But Brazil know they have a Neymar in the mood, in his biggest game for his country since the World Cup quarter-final against Colombia two years ago.
"When he is in the team he upsets the balance in a positive way, but I think there is a whole generation of Brazilian players with talent in the team," said Micale.
"I still believe in Brazilian football and when you have a star like Neymar, you have to be grateful because he rings you to a higher level."
This may be an Olympic final, but winning the gold will be of huge significance as Brazil work on a football renaissance.
Neymar is a monster. He has the gift of playing football, he delights everyone with his talent. Neymar deserves our gratitude because he pushes Brazil to a higher level.
- Brazil’s Olympic coach Rogerio Micale
Neymar is the best or second best player (behind Lionel Messi of Argentina) in world football, so controlling him is not easy. But the referees are falling into his trap.
- Honduras coach Jorge Luis Pinto
Hosts eye revenge
ARCH ENEMIES: Germany players celebrating their 2-0 win over Nigeria in the semi-final which set up the decider against Brazil. PHOTOS: REUTERS
The first half was not even over and Brazilian fans, seeing that their team were 3-0 up in the semi-final against Honduras yesterday morning (Singapore time), were chanting: "Germany, just you wait, your time is coming."
A few hours later, their wish came true and, after the Germans beat Nigeria 2-0 in the other semi-final one of the most intriguing sub-plots of the Olympics was set: An Under-23 version of the unforgettable 2014 World Cup semi-final that finished Brazil 1 Germany 7.
That mauling left a huge scar on Brazil's footballing psyche and, as the chants showed, fans of the host nation are desperate to get revenge - if not on the full German side, then at least on a German side.
As they left the Maracana after their 6-0 win, Brazil's players did not know if Germany would overcome Nigeria in the second semi-final.
But they did, and that was good news for fullback Douglas Santos.
Most of his teammates preferred to downplay a potential revenge match and Santos was one of the few to admit there will be a special atmosphere at the Maracana when two of the greatest national teams in the world meet on Sunday morning.
"I don't see it as being about revenge, for me it's an opportunity," said the Atletico Mineiro defender.
"It will be an opportunity to turn around something the fans today talk about as a difficult defeat.
"God willing, we are going to reverse that scoreline."
In reality, the similarities between that game and Sunday morning's one don't go much farther than the names on the tickets.
The teams that play in the Olympic tournament comprise players under the age of 23, with three over-age players permitted on each team.
Neymar is the only player on either squad to have played in the 2014 World Cup and he missed the Germany game through injury.
And although neither side have won the Olympic gold - communist East Germany won it in 1976 - that is largely irrelevant to Germany but of huge importance to Brazil and they have gone all out to break their gold-medal hoodoo.
Brazil called up Neymar, arguably their only world-class player, as well as a host of their top performers that include Gabriel Jesus, who signed for Manchester City last month for £27 million ($47.2m); Gabriel Barbosa, the 19-year old striker who goes by the nickname Gabigol; and Paris St Germain defender Marquinhos.
Brazilian sides were happy to let their players miss league duty to play in the Olympics because they are so desperate to win that one elusive title.
German sides, meanwhile, were reluctant to let their top stars prioritise the Olympics over the Bundesliga and clubs are not obliged to release them.
They came to Brazil with no players from the country's dominant club Bayern Munich and only four from the other three clubs that finished in the top four of last year's Bundesliga.
Their three over-age players have just 26 full caps between them, while Brazil's three have 81.
As if those advantages were not enough, Brazil will have home advantage.
That made little difference in 2014, but Brazil hope that the Maracana is more intimidating than the Mineirao in Belo Horizonte and that the young German players are easier to ruffle than their older peers were two years ago.
"The fans help us," said Gabriel Jesus after 52,000 supporters roared them to victory over Honduras.
"It makes a difference. I am sure they will help us even more on Saturday." - Reuters.
Ice woman Sundhage seeks gold hat-trick
A new team will be crowned Olympic women's football champions in tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) final as Sweden take on Germany at Rio's iconic Maracana Stadium.
However, there will be one two-time gold medallist present as Sweden coach Pia Sundhage goes for a third straight gold after leading the United States to victory in Beijing and London.
The normally understated Sundhage admits she has had to sacrifice her attacking philosophy to land her native Sweden's first-ever women's Olympic football medal.
But the hardships in doing so has made her Rio journey even more rewarding than gold was with a dominant American team.
"Emotionally I am thrilled. It is incredible Sweden are in the final," said Sundhage. "I have been in the China and London Olympic finals with a team everyone expected to do well. The road we have taken has been a wonderful trip with one or two upsets."
Indeed, Sweden have needed two penalty shoot-outs to pull off their upsets in knocking out world champions US and hosts Brazil, with the defensive tactics employed by Sundhage coming under fire.
Outspoken US goalkeeper Hope Solo blasted Sweden as "cowards" after their first Olympic defeat in 15 games stretching back eight years.
Sundhage explained: "It is a very different way of playing. With the US team it was attacking football, now it is the other way around."