Rio Olympics: Germany beats Nigeria in football semi, sets up Brazil rematch
Two years, one month and 12 days after one of the darkest days in its sporting history, Brazil will get its Mineirazo rematch.
Germany held off Nigeria 2-0 in the second of two men’s Olympic football semifinals Wednesday to set up a gold medal showdown with the Brazilians on Saturday. It will be the hosts’ first opportunity to avenge their infamous 7-1 World Cup semifinal loss from 2014.
Nothing Brazil does Saturday will erase the nightmares of that night two years ago in Belo Horizonte. The Olympics are an under-23 competition. Only one member of Germany’s Olympic squad, Matthias Ginter, was part of that German World Cup team.
But the circumstances, in a way, will be similar. The Brazilians are on home soil and under tremendous pressure. And these are the two best teams at the tournament. Brazil did its part earlier Wednesday to prove that. Germany followed it up with a similarly impressive performance, even if the final scoreline wasn’t as convincing.
It was left back Lukas Klostermann’s 9th minute goal that lifted the Germans into the lead, and eventually into the final. Serge Gnabry’s splitting pass from the edge of the box played in Max Meyer, and Meyer’s square cross left Klostermann with nothing to do but tap into an empty net at the far post.
The Nigerians, who posed an intermittent threat to Germany’s gold medal hopes throughout the 90 minutes, had been the non-Brazilian story of the tournament prior to Wednesday. They only arrived in Brazil hours before their opening game because of multiple flight cancellations. They promptly scored five goals in that opener, and won their group.
They had multiple chances to draw level in the first half. Tall, lanky striker Umar Sadiq failed to get a clean shot off when free near the top of the box.
Later, in the 31st minute, Sadiq did get his shot off as he spun after receiving a cross, but it was blocked out to John Obi Mikel at the top of the box. Mikel sent two German defenders sprawling to the grass with fake shots and cuts, but a third flew in to block the Nigerian captain’s attempt at goal.
Germany had chances to double the lead too. Nigerian goalkeeper Emmanuel Daniel smothered a point-blank effort from Lars Bender, who found himself free in the box and on the end of Niklas Sule’s knock-down header.
The Germans really pushed for a second on either side of halftime. Max Meyer sent a left-footed drive over the bar, and striker Davie Selke tested Daniel a few minutes later. Immediately after the break, Gnabry forced another good save from Daniel; Selke rounded him a minute later, but couldn’t convert from a tough angle with his momentum carrying him wide.
Gnabry had another good chance in the 58th minute, but fired wide at the near post with two German attackers waiting to pounce on a cross in the middle.
The Germans also needed some crucial interventions from their center backs — namely Ginter — to stifle a Nigerian attack that had scored 10 goals through four games. The Borussia Dortmund defender slid in with a precise tackle to deny Aminu Umar right before halftime.
Nigeria’s sights at goal became more and more obscured as the second half wore on though. Germany’s senior defensive midfield pairing of twins Lars Bender and Sven Bender suffocated Nigeria’s exciting young forwards.
In the 90th minute, German substitute Nils Peterson ensured his team’s progression to the final. Julian Brandt sent Selke in with a through ball, and the Germans broke 4-on-2. Selke’s low cross was slid home by Peterson at a tight angle to make it 2-0.
Germany and Brazil will kick off at Maracana Stadium at 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday. Nigeria will meet Honduras in the bronze medal match at noon ET.