MANCHESTER, England — On a sunny, but breezy day in Manchester, over 66,000 people flocked to Old Trafford to bear witness to the Group C clash between tournament favourites Brazil and second place Belarus.
Old Trafford was painted yellow as the majority of the crowd donned Brazil shirts, scarves and even flags. The colour would’ve made the organisers of the Rio de Janeiro carnival proud.
The carnival atmosphere was aided by various drums and the continuous “Brazil” chants that could be heard at many intervals throughout the game, overpowering the noise made by the small minority of Belarusians.
The crowd didn’t have to wait long for the first real chance of the game. Eight minutes in, a cross-field ball from Igor Kuzmenok found Ilya Aleksievich on the right hand side of Brazil’s 18-yard box. His neat volley back to Aleksei Kozlov allowed the defender to take a touch before sending over a perfectly weighted cross to his Brazilian-born teammate Renan Bardini Bressan, who powered his header past Neto in the Brazilian goal to give Belarus a shock lead.
This poor defending was also seen in Brazil’s previous match, in which they allowed Egypt to come from 3-0 down to 3-2. Oscar later confirmed this, “We need to improve in the air because we have conceded goals that way. If we improve our defending we will score more goals and we will be better." he told reporters.
Two minutes later, Marcelo fired a wild shot before a lofted pass nearly found Alexandre Pato, only for keeper Aleksandr Gutor to deny him with a headed clearance.
Brazil kept possession well, trying to formulate a final incisive pass, with chances coming and going. First, Hulk raced into the penalty area, but his touch was too heavy and he was unable to hurdle Gutor and keep it in play. It was the Porto forward that had another great chance, as a Marcelo cross found him in the centre, but he was unable to find the target.
However, the Belarus defence caved in on the 15-minute mark, with the assist coming from the possibly the most sought-after player in world football. Neymar's curling, inswinging cross was met by the AC Milan striker Pato, who climbed ahead of Igor Kuzmenok to nod Brazil level.
The closest either team came to taking the lead before half-time came from Belarus’ Bardini Bressan. His speculative effort from a free-kick, just outside the centre circle, forced Neto to palm the ball over the bar when really it shouldn’t have caused any major problems.
The second half was a mirror-image of the first, with Brazil dictating play. Marcelo had a fierce drive tipped over by Gutor before a the Real Madrid full-back's cross found Pato at the back post, who headed it back to Oscar, only for the midfielder to see his effort blocked spectacularly by Sergei Politevich.
Belarus managed a couple of decent chances, one of which fell to Bardini Bressan. His cross-come-shot caught the young Fiorentina keeper off guard, and he only just managed to prevent it flying into the top left-hand corner.
The lively Neymar eventually shattered the Belarusian’s resilience. His charge towards goal was ended illegally by captain Stanislav Dragun. Up stepped the wonderkid to fire a spectacular free-kick into the far left-hand side of the goal. After the game, Neymar commented, to The Reporters'Academy “I didn’t know it was (Brazil’s 100th Olympic goal) I’m so glad to have scored it.”
Brazil’s youngsters continued to live up to the decades old cliché, “it’s just like watching Brazil.” Their elegant, fast-flowing football saw Chelsea’s new recruit, Oscar, turn his way past two onlookers before his resulting shot was blocked. If anyone looked like scoring again, it was Brazil. And that’s exactly what they did.
Deep into stoppage time, Neymar darted into the penalty area before his nonchalant back-heel found Oscar, who finished with aplomb into the top corner to make it 3-1.
An indication of the awe that this young man exudes came post-match, when the talented goal scorer for Belarus, Bressan remarked to The Reporters' Academy; “It’s well known Neymar will be the next star and today was confirmation of this.”
This piece was written by Mike of The Reporters' Academy, a media production company run by young people. The Reporters' Academy is integrated into the world of media, education and employment, based in two great sporting cities, Manchester and Melbourne, and is officially Inspired by London 2012.