Road To The Olympic Games

Olympics·Olympic Games Replay

Superstars shine brightest in 2008, 2016 men's soccer gold medal matches

On this week's edition of Olympic Games Replay, CBC Sports looks back to the men's soccer gold medal matches from both the Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016 Olympics, starring Argentina's Lionel Messi and Brazil's Neymar respectively.

Argentina defends Olympic title; Neymar leads Brazil to victory on home soil

Brazil's Neymar celebrates after scoring the gold medal-winning penalty against Germany to crown his country as the Olympic champion on home soil in 2016. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

This week, positive COVID-19 tests to soccer, tennis and hockey players have increased worries about a general return to play.

There's still no word about whether the Olympics and Paralympics will get a definitive green light ahead of summer 2021.

The NHL, MLB and NBA continue to make noise about hub cities, summer tournaments and shortened seasons, but there have been no pucks dropped, balls tipped or pitches thrown, just yet.

All there is… is seemingly endless speculation.

WATCH | Olympic Games Replay - Olympic Soccer:

Watch action from the Olympic men's soccer gold-medal matches in 2008 and 2016. 2:27:06
One team sport that has resumed, on the European front at least, is soccer. Leagues in Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy are underway — albeit without audiences in the stands.

It's safe to say devout fans are desperately craving more actual sport and fewer stories about its absence.

It's only natural.

This Saturday is the 15th of several weeks of programming at CBC Sports which will showcase some of the most memorable moments from various editions of the Olympics, both winter and summer.

Episode No. 15 of Olympic Games Replay features the gold medal men's soccer matches from the Beijing 2008 Games as well as a triumph by the home team at Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

WATCH | Argentina, Brazil respectively strike gold in 2008 and 2016:

Relive the men's gold medal matches from 2008 with Argentina vs. Nigeria and 2016 with Brazil vs. Germany. 1:23

Soccer, or football as it's officially known, for men has appeared at every edition of the summer Olympics — with the exception of the first modern Games in Athens, Greece in 1896 and the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932.

It was not until 1984 that professional players were allowed to compete at the Olympics, and since 1992 it has been a tournament for players under the age of 23. FIFA, the governing body of international soccer, has always been careful not to let the Olympics rival the World Cup for attention.

Galt Football Club, pictured, represented Canada at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, winning the gold medal after defeating two local American club teams by a combined total of 11-0. (

Beginning in 1996, at the Atlanta Olympics, three players per team who were beyond the age of 23 were permitted to be added to each qualified country's roster.

Only three times in the history of the Olympics has a Canadian men's squad made the grade. The Canadians most recently played at Los Angeles in 1984 and finished sixth, while struggling to a 13th-place finish at the home Games of Montreal in 1976.

In 1904 at St. Louis, Canada was represented by the Galt Football Club, which won the gold medal by defeating two American club teams from the local area.

The Canadians outscored their opponents 11-0 in two matches played to capture the only Canadian gold medal in traditional team sport at a summer Olympics — with exception to two lacrosse championships in 1904 and 1908.

Argentina defends crown at Beijing Games

In Beijing at the 2008 Olympics, the first Games held in China, men's soccer was an overwhelming success.

The tournament drew nearly a million and a half spectators to the venues over the course of play. The final between Argentina, the defending champions, and Nigeria, the 1996 gold medallist, was contested before 90,000 fans at the glorious National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest.

"Because it is age-restricted, the Olympic tournament is not generally as popular as the World Cup where the world stops to watch, but that tournament in China was something else," said Jason de Vos, a former Canadian captain, who was the analyst for the gold medal match in 2008.

Lionel Messi, left, and Sergio Agüero pose with their gold medals after Argentina defeated Nigeria in the men's football final at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. (Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)

"It featured a who's who of Argentinian football. It had the established big stars and the future stars. They all went on to have magnificent careers."

Indeed, Argentina's side featured a 21-year old Lionel Messi, as well as Sergio Agüero — who had been brilliant at the FIFA U-20 World Cup held in Canada one year earlier.

Also present were deft midfielders Javier Mascherano and Angel DiMaria on side in the 1-0 victory over the Nigerians. All of these players would go on to lead Argentina to an appearance in the final of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Brazil captures dramatic gold at home

In 2016, the spotlight fell on the Brazilian men's team. Although they had captured five previous medals in Olympic play and been the runners-up at the London 2012 Olympics, the South American powerhouse had never been the gold medal champion.

Still the team roared through the tournament at the Rio Games, spurred on by delirious home crowds in love with their star player Neymar, a 24-year-old, who had put on a show at the FIFA World Cup two years prior.

"It was a storybook tournament for them and a storybook final match," recalled de Vos, who was actually in the Rio de Janeiro airport at the time of the gold medal game between the home side and Germany.

Brazil forward Neymar converts his penalty during a shootout to defeat Germany in the men's football gold medal match at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

de Vos had been in Brazil as part of the coaching staff for the Canadian women's team that had won bronze. Now waiting for their flight home, the Canadians watched riveted as Neymar scored in a 1-1 draw with the powerful Germans, extending the match past extra-time and into a penalty shootout.

"The whole airport stopped and watched, this was the big one for them," de Vos described the scene as everyone zeroed in on historic Maracana Stadium and the impending drama.

As it turned out, Neymar was the last Brazilian to score in penalties and one German missed, thus the home team captured a precious Olympic gold medal for the first time — and on hallowed ground to boot.

"The whole place erupted. It was crazy. Neymar scores in the final and then completes the deal by scoring on penalties," de Vos marvelled.

"It will always be a challenge for him to eclipse the great players who have gone before him in Brazil. Players like Pele, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Rivaldo. But Neymar has proven both in international play and what he's done in his club career that he is in the echelon of the greatest players in the world."

The victory by the men's soccer side, a sixth medal in the last nine Olympics by the footballers, was easily the most savoured moment in Brazilian Olympic history and went a long way toward adding some lustre to the Rio Games, which had been beset by a litany of controversies.

The 15th episode of Olympic Games Replay features three hours of football competition from the Beijing 2008 Games as well as the Rio 2016 Olympics. It kicks off with Argentina versus Nigeria, followed by Brazil and Germany in gold medal matches.

Looking ahead, Episode No. 16 of Olympic Games Replay airs Saturday, July 4, and will showcase "Canada's Games," as we relive the Olympic Games held in Montreal in 1976, Calgary in 1988 and Vancouver in 2010.

There will be a feature interview with high jumper Greg Joy, who saved the day for Canada in Montreal with a silver medal on the next to last day of the Games. We'll speak with figure skater Elizabeth Manley, who delighted fans at the Saddledome by winning a medal that was as good as gold in Calgary. And there'll also be a conversation with skeleton champion Jon Montgomery, who created one of the most iconic moments in Canadian sports history at the Vancouver 2010 Games.

About the Author

Scott Russell has worked for the CBC for more than 30 years and covered 14 editions of the Olympics. He is a winner of the Gemini Award, Canadian Screen Award and CBC President's Award. Scott is the host of Olympic Games Prime Time and the co-Host with Andi Petrillo of Road to the Olympic Games. He is also the author of three books: The Rink, Ice-Time and Open House."

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