KEIR RADNEDGE in RIO DE JANEIRO —- Skipper Neymar and six-goal hosts Brazil will play in the Olympic Games gold medal match in Maracana on Friday after running away with their semi-final against rank outsiders Honduras.
Neymar opened the scoring after only 15 seconds – supposedly a record – before Gabriel Jesus struck twice. Marquinhos stabbed a fourth early in the second half, Luan added a fifth and Neymar clipped home a stoppage time penalty.
But Neymar’s opening goal is the one which will be remembered for the speed of both thought and action within seconds of the kickoff.
He caught dawdling central defender Johnny Palacios in possession and dashed on to reach the ball moments before colliding with onrushing goalkeeper Luis Lopez.
Brazil fans’ hearts were in the mouths for some moments as Neymar collapsed while in mid-celebration and had to be carried off. But, in true Neymar fashion, he was soon back up and rejoining the action.
Gabriel Jesus put his own awful start to the Olympics behind him with two smartly-taken goals after 25 and 34 minutes, each time slicing the Honduras apart with exciting dashes in from the left.
Marquinhos, the defender who upset French champions Paris Saint-Germain by insisting on playing in the Games, scored No4 from close range 10 minutes into the second half. He almost fell over his own feet before prodding home from Neymar’s left-wing corner.
Honduras, to their credit, kept going to the end against vastly superior opposition and drew two sharp, late saves out of otherwise unemployed Brazilian goalkeeper Weverton.
But Brazil, just to remind them of the established order, struck a fifth through Luan who was then brought down from behind so Neymar, from the penalty spot, could end the match as he had begun it, with a goal.
After a poor start to their campaign, Brazil have improved from game to game. Honduras were by far the weakest of the four semi-finalists but the confidence of a winning momentum is important and the draw had smiled on the hosts who will be favourites for the final.
Germany, perhaps inspired by memories of what their seniors did to Brazil in the World Cup here two years ago, may have a different opinion.
RIO 2016 football tournament finals
Fri, Aug 19 – Bronze medal play-off: Brazil v Canada (Sao Paulo, 13.00). Gold medal final: Sweden v Germany (Rio Maracana, (17.30).
Sat, Aug 29 – Bronze play-off: Nigeria v Honduras (Belo Horizonte, 13.00). Gold medal final: Brazil v Germany (Rio Maracana, 17.30).
Aug 03 – Gp E: Sweden 1, S Africa 0; Brazil 3, China 0. Gp F: Canada 2, Australia 0; Zimbabwe 1, Germany 6. Gp G: US 2, New Zealand 0; France 4, Colombia 0.
Aug 06 – Gp E (Rio, Olimpico): S Africa 0, China 2; Brazil 5, Sweden 1. Gp F (Sao Paulo): Canada 3, Zimbabwe 1; Germany 2, Australia 2. Gp G (Belo Horizonte): United States 1, France 0; Colombia 0, New Zealand 1.
Tue, Aug 09 – Gp E: S Africa 0, Brazil 0 (Manaus); China 0, Sweden 0 (Brasilia). Final standings (all three matches): Brazil 7pts, China 4 (gd -1), Sweden 4 (gd -3), South Africa 1.
Gp F: Australia 6, Zimbabwe 1 (Salvador); Germany 1, Canada 2 (Brasilia). Final standings (all three matches): Canada 9pts, Germany 4 (gd +4), Australia 4 (gd +3), Zimbabwe 0.
Gp G: Colombia 2, United States2 (Manaus); New Zealand 0, France 3 (Salvador). Final standings (all three matches): US 7pts, France 6, New Zealand 3, Colombia 1.
Fri, Aug 12 – quarter-finals: US 1, Sweden 1 after extra time (3-4 on penalties: Brasilia); China 0, Germany 1 (Salvador); Canada 1, France 0 (Sao Paulo); Brazil 0, Australia 0 after extra time (7-6 on penalties: Belo Horizonte).
Tue, Aug 16 – semi-finals: Brazil 0, Sweden 0 (3-4 on pens: Rio Maracana); Germany 2, Canada 0 (Belo Horizonte).
Aug 4 – Gp A: Iraq 0, Denmark 0; Brazil 0, S Africa 0. Gp B: Sweden 2, Colombia 2; Nigeria 5, Japan 4. Gp C: Mexico 2, Germany 2; Fiji 0, S Korea 8. Gp D: Honduras 3, Algeria 2; Portugal 2, Argentina 0.
Aug 7 – Gp A (Brasilia): Denmark 1, South Africa 0; Brazil 0, Iraq 0. Gp B (Manaus): Sweden 0, Nigeria 1; Japan 2, Colombia 2. Gp C (Salvador): Fiji 1, Mexico 5; Germany 3, S Korea 3. Gp D (Rio, Olimpico): Honduras 1, Portugal 2; Argentina 2, Algeria 1.
Aug 10 – Gp A: Denmark 0, Brazil 4 (Salvador); S Africa 1, Iraq 1 (Sao Paulo). Fjnal standings: Brazil 5pts; Denmark 4pts; Iraq 3pts; S Africa 2.
Gp B: Colombia 2, Nigeria 0 (Sao Paulo); Japan 1, Sweden 0 (Salvador). Final standings (all three matches): Nigeria 6pts; Colombia 5pts; Japan 4pts; Sweden 1pt
Gp C : Germany 10, Fiji 0 (Belo Horizonte); S Korea 1, Mexico 0 (Brasilia). Final standings (all three matches): S Korea 7pts; Germany 5pts; Mexico 4pts; Fiji 0.
Gp D: Algeria 1, Portugal 1 (Belo Horizonte); Argentina 1, Honduras 1 (Brasilia). Final standings (all three matches): Portugal 7pts; Honduras 4 (gd 0); Argentina 4 (gd -1); Algeria 1.
Sat, Aug 13 – Quarter-finals: Portugal 0, Germany 4 (Brasilia); Nigeria 2, Denmark 0 (Salvador); S Korea 0, Honduras 1 (Belo Horizonte); Brazil 2, Colombia 0 (Sao Paulo).
Wed, Aug 17 – Semi-finals: Nigeria 0, Germany 2 (Sao Paulo); Brazil 6, Honduras 0 (Rio Maracana).