Brazil’s gamble of selecting Neymar for the Olympic squad rather than the Copa America squad this summer appears to be paying off, after he led his team to a 2-0 quarter final success over Colombia. Former coach Dunga may not see it that way as his team’s flat performances at the Copa America effectively cost him his job, but nonetheless the young talents of the Olympic home nation are just two games away from gold medals.
It was an inauspicious start to the tournament with 0-0 draws against South Africa and Iraq, but the 4-0 win over Denmark in the final group match settled the nerves. There’s plenty of history and rivalry between Brazil and Colombia, but Neymar’s early free kick set the hosts on the way to victory and booked them a place in the semi final against an over-performing Honduras side.
The other semi final will be played out between Africa and Europe’s best hopes for Olympic glory, Nigeria and Germany. Young Arsenal star Serge Gnabry has been arguably the player of the tournament so far for the Germans, and he was on the scoresheet in the 4-0 rout of Portugal as they safely made their way to the last four. Nigeria’s troubles have been well publicised in the build up to the tournament, but with Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel pulling the strings they’ve coasted through the group stage and a quarter final with Denmark to line up on Wednesday in the last four.
Brazil v Honduras
Now they are well into their stride, Brazil are worth backing to overcome a -1.5 Asian handicap at -115 with BetVictor
The host nation is a short price for an outright victory, but they have every chance of overcoming the handicap when they take on Honduras on Wednesday evening. The Colombia game was always going to be a bruising encounter due to the two nations history, and much of the focus was on Neymar. The Barcelona star has been red-carded against the full Colombia national side after reacting to rough-house tactics in a previous international, and of course, it was against Colombia that his World Cup was brought to an abrupt end in 2014 when he suffered a back injury after a terrible challenge.
Revenge was his over the weekend though when he struck a beautiful free kick into the net early in the game, and Luan completed the job with an immaculate lob late in the second half. Colombia again targeted Neymar with a series of niggling challenges, but he kept his cool this time around and is set to lead his side again when they take on surprise package Honduras.
The Central Americans qualified behind Portugal from group D after finishing above Argentina on goal difference. Despite losing to the Portuguese in their opening match, a win over Algeria and a draw with Argentina was enough to see them through with four points. They then faced a very competent South Korea side, but defended stoutly to keep them out and hit on the counter-attack to claim a 1-0 quarter final victory.
There’s little doubt that they will spend much of this semi final defending again, but whether they can keep out the likes of Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, Gabigol and Luan remains to be seen. Now that Brazil have found their form and have learned to cope with the pressure of big crowds and the expectation that comes with being hosts, they are fancied to charge to the final with a comfortable win.
Nigeria v Germany
Much like Brazil, it wasn’t a perfect start to the competition for Germany as they drew 2-2 with Mexico. The next game saw them snatch a last-gasp equaliser in a 3-3 draw with South Korea, and it was only in the 10-0 thrashing of Fiji that they earned their first three points.
The quarter final against Portugal was expected to be a tight affair, but it proved to be anything but. The Portuguese beat Germany 5-0 in the semi final of last year’s U21 European Championships, but the tables were turned when they met over the weekend. Germany dominated the game for very long spells and Portugal found it difficult to repel wave after wave of attacks. They held out for most of the first half, but pressure eventually told with Gnabry opening the scoring just before the break. Three second-half German goals sealed the victory, and the scoreline gave a good representation of their dominance.
Nigeria’s charter plane to Rio was cancelled due to non-payment prior to the tournament, but having finally arrived they made no mistake in getting through the group stage. Victories over Sweden and Japan saw them qualify for the quarter finals with a game to spare – which they went on to lose to Colombia. Denmark were the last-eight opponents, and again Nigeria made light work of them with John Obi Mikel scoring one and setting up the other in a 2-0 win.
It’s difficult to get too carried away with Nigeria’s success though, as Denmark came through second behind Brazil in a weak group with South Africa and Iraq. The Danes only scored one goal in Rio, and Germany will be a much tougher test in the semi final.
Brazil -1.5 to beat Honduras
Wednesday 17th August, 17:00 GMT
Germany to beat Nigeria
Wednesday 17th August, 20:00 GMT
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