Neymar Jr.’s final penalty on the Olympic Games’ men’s soccer final didn’t only mean victory for Brazil’s Olympic Team, it was an opportunity for the 205 million nation to regain some of the pride they had lost two years ago, during the World Cup, also hosted in the South American nation.Back in 2014, on the semi-finals of the World Cup, Brazil’s 7-1 defeat against eventual champions Germany seemed to mean a definite end to Brazil’s dominance in soccer. The only nation to be 5-time World Champions, defeated in the most humiliating fashion on their home ground by bitter rival Germany, seemed to lose the respect of the soccer world.
A matter of Pride
But the historical defeat during the World Cup wasn’t the only sign of decline for the former soccer juggernaut. After winning the 2002 World Cup, Brazil could only reach the quarter finals of the next two tournaments, with less than impressive overall results. The country’s stars seemed to lose some luster as well; while they still produced impressive footballers, most of them seemed to fade early:
- Rivaldo left Spain and Italy for the considerably weaker Greek football at the age of 32, just two years after being crowned world champion.
- Ronaldo would also leave Europe’s elite at the age of 32 after notoriously losing fitness during his time with Real Madrid
- Ronaldinho, while arguably the biggest football star of last decade, also lost his place among Europe’s elite at just 31 years of age due to his love for the nightlife.
- In Kaka’s case it wasn’t lack of fitness or concentration what took him out, but rather, constant injuries that made him fail during his 4 year stay at Real Madrid before leaving European football for good at the age of 32.
- And finally, stars such as Adriano and Robinho, while putting occasional impressive displays with Internazionale and Real Madrid respectively, never quite reached what was expected from them and became unable to even hold places with the national team.
All in all, it took a decade of constant failures for Brazil to lose the respect they used to inspire in other nations, and the defeat against Germany only seemed to confirm it.
A New Hope
The defeat against Germany cost coach Luiz Felipe Scolari his job, and lackluster results during the 2014 Copa America and 2015 Copa America Centenario meant his successor Dunga met the same fate. However, the victory during the Olympic Games, Brazil’s first ever victory in that instance, presents a new chance for domination in the figure of Olympic Games’ captain Neymar. The Barcelona forward, who is already been heralded as the eventual successor of teammate Lionel Messi, and who was absent from the recent failures of his team (through injury in 2014, through suspension in 2015 and by not participating in this year’s Copa America) has shown a combination of excellent fitness, dedication and commitment during his time in Europe. As a leader and example for a new generation of Brazilian footballers like Gabriel Jesus and Thiago Maia, it would not be surprising to see Brazil emerge again as a power in soccer sooner than many would have thought two years ago.