Neymar scored his first goal of the Rio Olympics on Saturday, giving Brazil a 2-0 win over Colombia and a spot in the semifinals of the men’s soccer tournament.
Neymar scored from a free kick in the 12th minute, sending a right-footed shot through the wall and into the lower right corner of the net. Luan added the second in the 83rd at the Arena Corinthians with a shot from outside the area, keeping alive Brazil’s hopes of winning the soccer gold medal for the first time.
The game, a sort of rematch from the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals, was heated from the start, with hard fouls from both teams. The benches cleared just before halftime after a vicious foul committed by Neymar, who lashed out after being harassed by opponents nearly every time he touched the ball.
“They really came playing hard, but we were able to overcome the pressure,” Brazil forward Luan said. “We were able to get the early goal and that helped us come away with a great victory.”
Brazil will next face Honduras, which reached the Olympic semifinals for the first time by defeating South Korea 1-0 at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte.
Neymar, one of the biggest stars at the Rio Games, was provoked just like he was the last two times the South American rivals met at the senior level, including in last year’s Copa America when Brazil lost 1-0 and the Barcelona striker was sent off. Two years ago, Neymar’s World Cup ended after he took a knee to his back late in Brazil’s 2-1 win over the Colombians. Brazil eventually lost to Germany 7-1 in the semifinals.
Upset with the way the Colombians were playing against him, Neymar went in hard against forward Andres Roa, a tackle that earned him a yellow card and ignited a brawl involving both benches.
After the altercation was over, Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir called both captains for a chat, and also talked to both coaches.
“Neymar is experienced and he did well controlling the game,” Luan said. “But the whole team deserves credit for being able to keep it together and get the victory. Now we have to focus on the next two games to be able to reach our dream.”
More than 41,000 fans were on hand at the Arena Corinthians, the stadium which opened the World Cup two years ago.
Brazil arrived at the Rio Games heavily favored to win the Olympic gold, which is the only significant trophy it hasn’t won in soccer. The hosts struggled in scoreless draws against South Africa and Iraq but recovered with a 4-0 win over Denmark to advance to the quarterfinals.
Brazil lost the 2012 final to Mexico in London. The five-time world champions also finished second at the 1984 Los Angeles and 1988 Seoul Games. The team won the bronze in 1996 and 2008.
NIGERIA TO PLAY GERMANY
In the other semifinal match, 1996 Olympic champion Nigeria will face Germany, which is playing at the Olympic tournament for the first time since 1988 - when Jurgen Klinsmann was in the squad. Germany routed Portugal 4-0 in Brasilia, while Nigeria beat Denmark 2-0 in Salvador.