Olympic glory for 38-year-old Dani Alves and silver for Spain's Pedri
Brazil beats Spain in the final (2-1) on the day Pedri played his eleventh extra time and his 73rd match of the season
Twenty-one years after their last Olympic final, the Spanish national football team have once again come up short. The young generation of Spanish footballers, led this time by Pedri, who played his 73rd game of the season and his 11th extra time, will return from Japan with a silver medal. The gold medal still goes to Brazil, who defended the most precious Olympic metal that Neymar and Co. had won at Rio 2016, and which Dani Alves, the player with the most titles in history, can now also wear: 45. Barcelona 1992 will continue as the greatest triumph in a Games for the Olympic state team after losing in extra time against the Brazilian team with a goal from ex-Barcelona's Malcom (2-1).
For the final, Spain coach Luis de la Fuente has gone back to his usual certainties, but the canarinha were superior opponents. After giving Rafa Mir a starting berth in the semi-finals, rewarding his crucial performance after scoring a hat-trick in the quarter-finals despite entering the field in the 90th minute, the coach went back to his plan A today. This meant that Mikel Oyazarbal returned to the centre-forward position, with Dani Olmo and Marco Asensio sharing the flanks. Despite returning to their certainties and convictions, the game was dominated by Brazil, who struck first on the stroke of half-time.
After a cautious and tactical first 45 minutes, with little in the way of eye-catching football, a Claudinho cross that seemed destined to be forgotten was extended by the tireless Dani Alves at the far post and his back-pass was picked out by Matheus Cunha, who surprisingly beat Pau Torres and Eric Garcia to open the scoring with a close-range finish (1-0, 45' +2').
Despite the few clear-cut chances in the first half, Brazil could have gone ahead after a penalty from Unai Simon, who had arrived late to push away a cross in the heart of the box and, without touching the ball, ended up blocking an omnipresent Cunha. Australian referee Chris Beath whistled for the penalty after reviewing the action on the monitor and Richarlison, one of the most active players for the canarinha along with Cunha himself, Claudinho and Antony, sent the ball into the clouds.
The clearest chance of the first half by the state team had come in the first fifteen minutes of play, in an action in which Cucurella, winning the game to Alves after a centering of Asensio, had served a ball to the small area in which Diego Carlos had to act providentially. If the Sevilla centre-back had failed to cut out the ball, Catalan striker Dani Olmo would have had the ball at his mercy. Spain's first goal, however, would not come until the restart.
Spain send two pilots to the post
The Spanish Olympic football team's journey would not be explained without a clear share of the limelight going to their revulsive strikers. If against Côte d'Ivoire it was Rafa Mir's 90th-minute introduction and, against Japan, Marco Asensio's presence after also entering the fray late on, today it was the turn of Carlos Soler, who came on just as the second half got underway along with Brayan Gil. After a great scare from Richarlison, who did not score his sixth goal at the Games because Unai Simon's leg and the crossbar made a great individual play by the Everton striker come to nothing, it was the turn of Soler and Mikel Oyazarbal. The Valencia midfielder delivered a cross from the right flank, which the Real Sociedad Basque converted with a masterful finish at the far post (1-1, 61').
The goal took the wind out of Brazil's sails, who looked dominant but struggled to impose themselves in the second half. While Soler was crucial to the cross that Oyazarbal turned into a goal both beautiful and vital, first Carlos Gil and then Brayan Gil could have been heroes for their team, but both hit the crossbar in a match that was destined for extra time.
Malcom was decisive
Brazil coach Andre Jardine, who did not move the bench until extra time, brought on former Barcelona and current Cienit player Malcom, who revitalised the left side of the Carioca attack, with full-back Arana getting forward in attack. Spain saw how the game was going uphill in extra time, taking water out of the boat until Malcom beat Madrid's Vallejo on a counter-attack and scored a goal worth its weight in gold with a cross-shot (2-1, 108'). If the revulsive players had been the key to Brazil's success up until the final, they have used the same recipe to win the tournament. With this silver in football, the state Olympic delegation now has 17 medals, the same as in Rio 2016.